e36 Mark Stouse

32: How did Mark Ross Smith revolutionize the airline industry’s rewards programs with Status Match?

Mark Ross Smith, CEO & Founder of StatusMatch.com, revolutionized the way airlines run their incentive programs for frequent travelers. Through Status Match he’s brought over one billion dollars in new customer value to major airlines, like Emirates, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and more.

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Show Transcript

Paris Vega (00:00.810)
Welcome to the first customers podcast. Today we have Mark Ross Smith with us. He’s the CEO and founder of statusmatch.com. His company has brought over a billion dollars in new customer value to major airlines like Emirates, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines and more. So Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark (00:25.035)
fantastic to be here. I’m actually very excited to talk about airlines and customer acquisition today. Got some good stories.

Paris Vega (00:31.266)
Cool. Well, let’s get into it. How’d you get your first customers for statusmatch.com?

Mark (00:37.091)
So we launched this business in 2020, which is probably the worst time to launch an aviation-related startup in the history of humanity. The logic was, as me, is a few guys, three of us, have founded it. All three of us had worked for airlines in management roles. So we understood the industry a lot. And loosely, the logic was, we were

Paris Vega (00:49.031)

Mark (01:05.895)
In 2020, airlines were in a world of pain, right? They’re all just bleeding cash like crazy. It’s like, how can we, how can we help the airlines come back, accelerate their recovery faster? And, and we thought, uh, you know, what’s the one thing that when we worked at airlines, we, we wished someone had pitched us as a product and status matches the concept, that’s what we wish people had pitched us and that’s what we created. Um, I’ll get to that in a sec, but how we got our first customer specifically.

Um, in the years prior to that, I had a blog travel, data daily.com. It’s free. I just, it’s just thought leadership kind of content. Right. So I was publishing stuff based on a previous business I had, which was in telco social network that I had an exit from, and I was thinking there’s all these great things that telcos were doing to make money out of customers. And I thought airlines could learn from this. There’s a bunch of things. So I started basically just blogging online, you know,

Hey, you could do this. Hey, you could do this. You could sell this data. You could, you know, this kind of stuff. That started getting a lot of attention. So when we launched this business, I was, you know, like any ultra tech geek, I, you know, I’ve got an email list, right? Cause I’m sending out emails every time there’s a new post and I’m stalking, stalking about email at who’s opening the emails, who’s clicking the emails. And there was one particular, uh, employed in airline, uh,

Tommy Langhouser at Frontier Airlines. He was opening all the emails, which means he was reading, which means he is seeing my name, right? I’d never met the guy and hi, if you’re listening Tommy, hi and never met him. And I forget he’s reading my content. So at least knows that I’m not an idiot, right? He knows I know what I’m talking about because I talk about airline loyalty, monetization, commercialization stuff. So I hit him up and I said, hey mate,

Mark (03:00.203)
you know, you read my content, got this great idea with, we’ve got a prototype. Do you want to try it? And he said, I’m not really. So a couple of months later, that what that had done, that it’s so a seed in his head, right? Cause that airlines, you know, they’ve got a million different things going on at one time. And when something becomes a priority, it’s ultra urgent for them. Like they, they, they’ve got, they bring out their little

black book and they go, who can I contact to help me get this online right now? And it was one of those moments. So he had to get something online in customer acquisition. Who do I call? Oh, this Mark guy. He seems pretty intelligent, not totally idiot. So I’ll contact him. And from there it moved extremely fast. Right. And so I attribute, so our first B2B customer was Frontier Airlines. Again, this was the end of 2020, the worst time in history, middle of the pandemic.

Paris Vega (03:32.832)

Mark (03:57.131)
They were looking to acquire new customers, to fill planes, you know, just to just keep the airline going really. Uh, cause there’s a lot of folks just not flying. So, you know, traditionally getting airlines as, as, as customers is extremely hard, I know companies where they’ve got a six to eight year, you know, pipeline sales pipeline, just to get these sort of brands on board. Cause it’s, it could be really difficult. And yet it seemed to be almost too easy for us. It just came like. Like.

Paris Vega (03:57.279)

Mark (04:26.539)
magic. It was, I want to say a few months, like maxed between, between idea building something and then having a prototype and then signing a contract with them and going live.

Paris Vega (04:27.799)

Paris Vega (04:38.071)

Paris Vega (04:40.638)
Okay, so what was the specific thing that he called you about to solve?

Mark (04:45.603)
So it’s about customer, he wanted customer acquisition. All right, so in the, I’ll give you the one-on-one on what the status matches. That’ll give some context here. So status matching as a concept has been around for about 35, 36 years. And what it is, so imagine you’ve got like a silver, gold, platinum status with an airline or a hotel, right? These people represent about 5% of an airline’s database.

Mark (05:15.499)
but about 30 to 40% of total revenue for an airline. So they are the single most valuable customers an airline can have as an aggregate group. Airlines, funny enough, want more of these customers, right? These people fly business class, they’re in a high yield premium economy class, Kevin, they spend more, they spend more frequently, they buy all the ancillaries during the airline lounges, they get the credit card, they’re doing all the right actions. Airlines want more.

Paris Vega (05:42.495)

Mark (05:43.839)
So status match is the cheapest, fastest way for them to get more of these customers. The idea is let’s say you have a gold or platinum status with say American airlines and frontier airlines, you know, wants you to try them out. So you’ve got status with American. You like fly American airline. You like the lounges, you like the, the boarding experience, the food, all this, the miles, all this kind of stuff.

Mark (06:12.843)
You have no interest in flying front of airlines at all because you’re hooked on American airlines on the Alliance. It benefits all the perks you get. So the way to get you to try a new airline frontier dangles his little car over here and says, Hey, we’ll give you the equivalent status you have with American over here. Frontier straight off the bat. You don’t have to fly at all. We’ll just give it to you. So he’s, he’s a gold equivalent of us. You’re getting in our status match. Yeah. So the,

Paris Vega (06:30.558)
Oh, okay, status map.

Paris Vega (06:34.079)
Status, max.

Paris Vega (06:38.494)

Mark (06:42.175)
If you’ve got status on airlines, status drives behavioral change in people. Status actually outside of airlines. Like why do people buy fast, expensive cars? It’s a status thing. It’s not cause it’s the most efficient way to get around. Cause it’s definitely not, but it’s a status thing. You look good. You feel good. Same with airlines. When you’ve got that gold or platinum status, you’ve got the, you know, on the bag, on your bag tag, people see it and go, ah, you’re, you’re platinum. You’re cool. You’re better than me. So.

This we laugh, but it drives billions and billions of dollars of airline tickets worldwide. So this is the, it’s the cheapest, fastest way for airlines and hotels to acquire new high value customers. So instead of them, you know, corporate sales teams doing dinners and drinks and dinners and drinks, dinners and drinks all the time, trying to schmooze people into flying them or running, you know, Google AdWords or any kind of digital marketing.

offering a status match is by far the most effective way to do it. And so we, we basically built a process around that to a structured process to put people through to help airlines acquire these customers.

Paris Vega (07:54.255)
Okay, now I see the genius of it. That’s amazing.

Paris Vega (07:59.914)
So does that mean that you can build up status kind of across all the airlines? Or is it like you have to switch and officially kind of say, you’re my new official airline I’m going to choose. And so all your status stuff comes over at that point.

Mark (08:15.619)
you could just pick and choose, right? So you keep your, in our example, you’ve got your American Airlines platinum status. And then we come along and say, he’s a frontier of maybe Spirit Airlines gold status. And these airlines are very different. American Airlines, your experience with American Airlines and Spirit, well, maybe they’re not these days. They should be very different. So you would keep your American Airlines platinum status. So you keep doing that. I mean, you have to…

Paris Vega (08:23.638)

Paris Vega (08:38.350)
I’m going to go ahead and turn it off.

Mark (08:43.863)
keep flying to keep it or spending to, you know, to keep your status with American. And with, with spirit, the idea is here’s your gold status. Try it. Just try the product. Just take a flight, see if you like it or not. If you do come back again and again, and again, again, maybe you just keep it in your back pocket, just in case. And generally, generally you get it for a year and within that time, you’ve got to re-qualify on merit to keep it yourself as per whatever rules that that program would have. So it’s.

Paris Vega (09:01.878)

Paris Vega (09:10.644)

Mark (09:13.331)
It’s, it’s, it’s brand introduction for the airline. How, like how, how else is someone like a spirit or like another L how else are they going to unhook folks from the brand that they’re really, you know, tethered onto, because you’re so, if you’re flying a big legacy carrier, you, there’s a process, you know, how things work, you know, you know, that on a Friday night, when you’re flying home,

Paris Vega (09:16.471)

Paris Vega (09:26.732)

Mark (09:39.383)
Judy at check-in is going to check you in and she’s there with a smile and say, welcome back. I’m, you know, there’s, there’s this process, you know what aircraft you’re on, you’re in seat five D to favorite, you know, there’s going to be three snack. People like routine and how do you, how do you break that? How do you get them out of that routine of talking to Judy at the airport every Friday night to go try a new brand statuses?

Mark (10:08.063)
huge status actually drives more customer behavior with airlines than price. So you could say that, you know, it’s free to fly this other airline, people still won’t do it because they’re hooked, they’re so hooked on their loyalty benefits. And the logic that folks use is stuff like, well, I get lounge, I can go into the lounge before the flight. And so people overestimate what they’re going to use, right? So I’ll go into the lounge and I can, that’s going to save me.

Paris Vega (10:15.272)

Mark (10:36.299)
50 bucks in airport food, because I’m going to eat all these snacks in the lounge, I’m gonna have eight drinks and that’s worth to calculate $100 to me before the flight. And I’m going to get my miles and I need more miles because my wife tells me I need to get more because I have to fly out of Paris in first class next year for anniversary. It’s all these totally illogical things people think and all of underpinning all that is their airline status.

Paris Vega (10:54.881)

Paris Vega (11:05.378)
So how did you and the potential client come to the conclusion that this was the thing to build? Because you said he just reached out about, I just want customers. And you went through a couple months process of figuring out this idea. I guess you were, you’re in the space, you’re, you’re blogging, you have a following, but was this something that you’d been thinking about or what brought you guys to this specific idea?

Mark (11:32.771)
So good question. So I’m Australian and 2013, 14, I moved to Hong Kong, relocated to Hong Kong. And at the time I was ultra top frequent flyer with Qantas, Australian airline. And when I moved to Hong Kong, I asked Cathay Pacific, the local airline there for a status match because the term status match is not a new thing at all. I asked them for a status match and they said no.

Mark (12:02.339)
I’m like, what, what, come on guys, you know, I, I’m this Uber Uber top tier over here. Uh, you know, throw me a bone and I’ll throw you some money. Basically I’ll start flying. They said, no, that that’s really what kickstarted this whole thing. Cause at the time I just saw my business. It’s got employed at that point. What am I going to do next? I had a bit of money, a bit of time. And that’s, that’s what really started the process of. I need to fly cheap. I need to, how do I, how do I keep status with an airline?

you know, with a job because it gets down expensive. So I started attending a lot of industry events at that time, just, just paying my way in, just, you know, I had nothing to sell. I didn’t work for any brand just to, just to learn why airlines wouldn’t do this. Why airlines wouldn’t just freely give out status matches to try and luber in new customers, especially people that want to engage with the brand. And fast forward a few years, I ended up

Uh, landing a job with an airline running a loyalty program, uh, Malaysia airlines. And I ran their, in turn, their first status match above the line status match campaign internally. And it was a disaster. We did. Yeah. We, yeah. I mean, we, we got a bunch of people, but there’s all sorts of issues that we took a long time to upgrade people. It was fraud issues with, you know, people photoshopping and saying, Oh, look, I’m

Paris Vega (13:12.992)

Paris Vega (13:16.141)

Mark (13:29.583)
I’m a diamond member with this airline. Give me, I want nobody and not, yeah. Microsoft paint skills suck. Go back and try again. So how long issues with that? And it was just, it was just not a great customer experience. So the idea was, was right. Average customer experience. And what that meant is when people think of the brand, they were having it for the foot, probably for the first time ever. They were thinking this.

this brand’s kind of average because they’re not coordinated. They’re not doing things quickly. And so when I left the airline, I thought, you know, I, there’s something in this. There’s something in creating a really beautiful seamless brand on-boarding experience for high value customers. If someone’s flying business or first-class, they’ve got, you know, they’ve either got a really good job, they’re working for a really good company or they’ve got a bit of cash to burn. They’re the type of customers you want flying you.

Some of these people, you know, they fly, it’s like, do I fly first class or private? So for commercial, and you want them flying you not, not flying private over here. So how do you, how do you again lock them into that?

Paris Vega (14:42.150)
OK, so you had that experience creating the first status match kind of incentive program at the Malaysian Airlines. And so was this years later when this prospect had been reading your newsletter or your blog, they reached out to you and you’re like, oh, I’ve got an idea. And OK.

Mark (15:03.135)
Pretty much. Yeah. It was a couple of years later. Uh, obviously when 2020 hit, you know, the world changed and some things accelerated and other things put on the back burner for airlines, uh, generating cashflow, be straight to the top of their list. How do we make money? Like do we do anything? We need, we need, we need to save jobs. Right. So, cause a lot of airlines were laying off staff at that point.

a bunch in, especially in North America were effectively mortgaging their loyalty businesses. And that’s interesting. We, the world discovered at that point that some of these loyalty program businesses are, had high valuations in the airline themselves. So what that meant is the loyalty businesses internally got a lot more power, you know, political sort of clout internally to do more.

Paris Vega (15:46.519)

Mark (15:57.407)
and be more aggressive on partnering with new firms, running new offers, new campaigns, new things to get people interested in the brand. People obviously, um, I mean, you know, you know, like the airline credit cards, you know, you own them, you know, like the American, the Delta, you know, those kind of thing. Yeah. So those credit cards, those businesses of those credit cards are worth phenomenal amounts of money to the airlines. Absolutely extreme. It’s like a telephone number with a lot of zeros on the end.

Paris Vega (16:22.721)

Paris Vega (16:27.351)
I believe it.

Mark (16:27.827)
extremely valuable. So anything that dovetails into that loyalty business of selling miles or getting people to fly airlines get really interested in. And so status match, it wasn’t a brand new concept to a thing. It wasn’t like some crypto blockchain web 3.0 AI solution where, you know, it’s where it’s a bit of a leap for airlines to do that. This was something that already been doing themselves, but not that well for a few decades. And so.

Mark (16:58.731)
You know, we just, uh, you know, I talk about how we actually don’t have it. We have, we have no big data, no machine learning, no AI. No, we have none of this stuff. And yet we’ve been profitable since day one. What, you know, we, we got a bunch of big airline brands. We’re expanding with, you know, we’re doing pretty well. We’re just, it’s because it’s just solving a basic customer need that’s out there. It’s nothing crazy. It’s, we’re not reinventing anything. We’re just helping airlines take that baby step.

in that evolution to engage customers better.

Paris Vega (17:32.786)
Are you using like software? Is it actually like a web app that they have to interact with? Or is that just for getting leads? Because I know that you have a website.

Mark (17:43.071)
Yeah, I mean, his website is a web app. There’s a lot that powers behind it, but there’s no, I mean, there’s pretty sophisticated tech stack there, but there’s no crazy, you know, your 800 servers crunching numbers, doing things at the back end. It’s, it’s a pretty straightforward setup, I think. And I mean, to be fair, why would you want anything more technical than you needed to be as a startup?

Paris Vega (17:47.042)

Paris Vega (18:10.055)
Sure. Yeah.

Mark (18:10.815)
you know, it’s hard to justify some of these extra resources, you know, you get all these, these cloud providers trying to throw free credits at you to remove all your stuff. But then you get addicted to using it. It’s like, oh, these bills get pretty expensive. So I think, you know, part of our success is just keeping it super simple, especially on the tech side, give it super simple, just do exactly what the airlines need and want, keeping it fast. And then, you know, just to really slip.

Paris Vega (18:24.854)

Mark (18:38.051)
customer experience. Really good customer experience is something, I think, that airlines don’t always get right. So when they see what could be out there, like how good it could be, they’re in awe of it. Like, oh, that’s really nice. That’s what our customers want.

Paris Vega (18:54.206)
Yeah. So you got this first prospect, you’re talking to them and you say, Hey, I’ll build some software. Um, did you have any software experience or did you hire a little team or did they like front you some money so that you could build that, you know, talk a little bit about that, kind of how it went from idea to actual prototype.

Mark (19:14.911)
I wish they paid us. Um, we structured something with them. It worked pretty well. Obviously getting a big airline brand as first client is a big deal as a startup. You know, it’s, it’s worth a lot to us. So you do whatever it takes to make it work. And, you know, there was people’s necks on the line if we, if we didn’t make it work as well, so it had to work, right. Um, we, we built it internally. Uh, it was.

Paris Vega (19:28.449)

Mark (19:45.983)
uh, uh, two of us that worked on it initially, uh, myself and, uh, and one of our other other guys, um, and that was based off, uh, I mean, years ago, I’d, I’d learned gosh, about 20 years ago. Now I, you know, I got into, um, you know, basic web development stuff, you know, I mean, like my first job, I remember my first job in the year 2000, early 2000. I was an HTML developer.

Paris Vega (20:14.189)
Nice. Yeah.

Mark (20:14.199)
Right. Because if you knew HTML, you were like, if they didn’t want to hire someone that could use front page, Microsoft front page, remember those days. So if you knew actually how to code, wow, man, you were in. So.

Paris Vega (20:23.372)

Paris Vega (20:26.774)
Yeah, you were a hacker.

Mark (20:28.771)
Totally. You know IRC? Wow. You’re amazing. So back at those, I sort of learned a bit from there. And I learned PHP, MySQL, that kind of stuff back then. And it’s like, once you think like a programmer, it kind of stays with you. And so picking up other languages is a little easier. And so we hacked together our first version of it. It was effectively a white label version for the airline.

Mark (20:58.623)
still online today, actually frontierstatusmanage.com. Check it out. And we created that, and it worked. We hooked up payments and all sorts of stuff into it. It worked really well. It was fast, ultra success.

Mark (21:17.195)
the airline, you know, and said, you know, we need to do this again. We need to do it again, bigger. It was a campaign at the time. Let’s do a bigger and better next time. We did exactly that bigger, better about a year later for them. We ran another campaign. And so yet now we, we built this internally, uh, which I think is good because we built it from the mindset of being developers, but also having the experience of working at airlines. So, you know, what’s like your

Paris Vega (21:42.424)

Mark (21:45.043)
if they’re not listening, you’re coding, you’re doing your thing, right? And you think, hey, what if… What if you could do this? Or shouldn’t we be checking for this when people do… You’re thinking these things from a… Like a development perspective, but you’re also thinking it from an airline management perspective. Hey, they would like to see this kind of data, so we should store that as well. We should store this in this other…

table over here because they’re going to just these, these are tiny little things, but you don’t think, but when you’re creating, you, you know, you think about this on the fly, which you otherwise wouldn’t if you can’t expect it out and had someone else develop it. Cause they would just be, you know, this is what I’m creating and nothing else. So, uh, yeah, it worked out really well, uh, with, with Frontier there. And, uh, I mean, it was huge success. They got a lot of great media off the back of it as well. And it was the first time that, uh, we, uh,

traditionally a status match like this had been free. So the airline would say, he’s gold status for free, go try it, because they know you’re a high value customer. We put fees in front of that. So what we said to you is, well, we’re not gonna give you gold status for free, you pay 50 bucks as like an application fee, and then we’ll make it work. And that’s how the economics of, the commercials came into play with the airline and low cost airlines.

Paris Vega (22:51.694)

Paris Vega (23:04.295)

Mark (23:11.211)
funny, don’t like paying out money to people. So, you know, going to them with a proposition where, uh, there was no cost to them to work with us as well. Uh, definitely no costs, not front. Um, that effectively means they could. Acquired new customers, high value customers at no cost, which pretty attractive.

Paris Vega (23:32.734)
Okay, yeah, because you’re making money directly from the customers. They’re paying you. So you just need the airline to agree to do it with you.

Mark (23:40.191)
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So the airline gets all the upside of, you know, these folks, some of these folks go on to get, they get the credit cards with the airline, they spend, you know, hundreds of thousands of millions on the cards, they start taking flights with the airline, they try it once and that this is not as bad as I thought I’d try again, I’ll take my family next time and I’ve got to buy other bags and the seats lecture, you know, so it gets people into the ecosystem that otherwise would never even think about it at all.

Paris Vega (23:49.451)

Paris Vega (24:07.870)
And you guys get basically like a one time transaction fee for just introducing that relationship. Or do you have ongoing fees per customer?

Mark (24:17.183)
Most of the time it’s a one-time thing. As a, like a, I mean, we call it an application fee. And those fees vary by brands we work with. You know, there’s some brands where we can charge more just because it’s a bigger brand and there’s more demand for it. Sometimes it’s a little less. What we have found, actually, this is very interesting.

Mark (24:40.931)
Prior to us creating this, status matching as a concept was free. No one charged for it because it was just a, if you want my business, you’ll do it for free kind of thing. We came along, we put fees on everything. What that may change the dynamic out of everything. Firstly it meant airlines could get real expertise without cash outlay because there’s a model funding the expertise is coming in. So that’s us, right? That’s the first part. Second part is…

Paris Vega (24:51.682)

Mark (25:11.531)
the people that were going through a process that were doing this were much more serious customers. So there’s a higher quality customer the airline was getting at the end of the day. And the third thing, it created a revenue stream for the airline. Right. So, you know, some of these airlines, we might revenue share in some different ways with the airline as well. So they sort of, they’re actually getting paid to get new customers. Pretty attractive, I think, for an airline, especially in 2020 when you need cash.

Paris Vega (25:33.194)
Right. So yeah, because you turn for sure you’re turning a cost, you know, there’s usually a customer acquisition cost into a new source of revenue.

Mark (25:45.311)
Exactly. And a lot of this came, so you know, the book blue ocean strategy, it’s not, it’s, you know, it’s been around forever. It’s a hard read for anyone that hasn’t read it, but really, really good examples of, you know, changing the value curve of, of, of products and businesses. And that’s exactly what we did in this business. We took something that was traditionally free, put big fees on it. And what actually meant is more people did it. That’s the funny thing. Normally free gets volume. No, no, no, no. Paid actually got more volume.

So I was like, how high can the fees go then? You know, is the higher the fee, the more you get. Like it’s totally illogical, but worked out really well.

Paris Vega (26:20.415)

Paris Vega (26:27.970)
That’s interesting because maybe especially the, it kind of solves a few problems. Like you reduce spam because you’re charging a fee kind of like what the logic of what Elon Musk recently did with Twitter for the blue check mark, you got to pay an $8 fee or whatever the fee is now. Uh, and so it kind of reduces spam and that like Photoshopping issue you were talking about, cause there’s less people who are going to put out that 50 bucks for something that they know that is, you know, it’s not legit.

what they’re trying to do. And the customers that are in this target market are people who are used to paying more for higher quality. And so it’s like, it almost validates the service and legitimizes it by having to pay for it.

Mark (27:12.607)
You get it a hundred percent. And when people do pay for it, it’s, it’s kind of like Amazon prime. If you pay for it, you’re like, well, I’ve got to use it now. So what happens, you’re not sending even more that it’s bending unnecessarily, which is. I mean, maybe not good for you, but great for the brand. You’re, you’re, you’re locking yourself in, which is exactly what these brands want. They, they want that, that, you know, loyalty.

Paris Vega (27:23.659)

Mark (27:42.863)
whether it’s, you know, you’re trapped is not the right word, but more focused on one brand than splitting your business between two or three.

Paris Vega (27:51.435)

Paris Vega (27:54.070)
really interesting business model. So you got a Frontier Airlines. And so what was your like internal marketing strategy for getting new airlines and getting in front of other airlines?

Mark (28:08.119)
Good question. We we’ve doubled down on content and media. So, uh, we rewind to 2020, 2021. I live in Asia, which was locked down effectively. So I couldn’t travel, uh, even if I wanted to, it was just far too difficult. So there was no events. I couldn’t, you know, go to these events, speak on stage and how great this is. So it was all webinars, content online, like text, you know,

videos, LinkedIn. So we doubled down. We just hammered the heck out of content, thought leadership stuff, not setting and very rarely actually selling our product. So if we, you know, I had video here, right? So in the middle, if you’ve got your product in the middle, we never focused on that. We focused on everything else around it. So we would talk about why customer acquisition is important or what benefits airlines and hotels had from…

having more of these customers. What was the impact that that had never talked about, Hey, deal with us and we’ll do this. Never that always about all the other stuff, because the thought leadership that goes around that’s shareable content. That stuff where if you work at a big brand, you could get an article or a video, like a short snippet of video. You could send it to your boss and say, Hey, check this out. Cause you know, he’ll watch it for 10 seconds or something like that. So we had a lot of success.

Paris Vega (29:34.170)
Okay, so you’re creating content that solved your customers problems, other problems, not just the problem you’re specifically solving, but the customer, the problems that your target audience had. You made content around those other things as well.

Mark (29:49.559)
Exactly. Never directly about what we actually do though. Everything else except that, but everyone it’s kind of, we do everything else. And then it fills in everything feeds into what our core product, which is customer acquisition for that, for airlines and hotels. We found that worked really well. So then we obviously, when the world opened up, you know, we started, you know, sponsoring events, going about speaking on stage, doing a lot of this. We still do quite a lot of it.

Uh, it works very well, uh, high visibility in the industry, always being there, always being top of mind, top of, uh, you know, so when these brands are ready to do something like this, we’re there with a logical, you know, vendor supplier for them to reach out to and say, well, I mean, you guys are there. I mean, we are the experts, but you know, Hey, you guys, you know, your stuff cause you know, we’ve been around, uh, for so long, like think typical big brand.

They, they’re not always that interested in dealing with small organizations. And so how do you make yourself look bigger than you, than you might otherwise be and you know, as a whole fake it till you make it thing, but I guess some doesn’t really apply to us because we got a lot of traction pretty fast. Uh, and, and, but I mean, saying that it’s still a struggle. It’s not, it’s not unicorns and rainbows and all these brands lining up. I mean, this is a few, but there’s

It’s not, it’s not crazy. And this is, so we’ve still had a lot of struggles, but, and this is coming from us as co-founders working industry previously. So if you had not, like, if we didn’t have that experience of being in the industry previously, it would have been incrementally harder to do this. So I don’t know if you people that are coming in a little blind to it is it’s a even bigger challenge.

Paris Vega (31:18.060)

Paris Vega (31:43.850)
Yeah. Okay. So putting out a lot of content. So content marketing is core part of your strategy, thought leadership, going to events, holding a sponsoring events, um, after frontier, who was the next customer? Like, or how did they reach out? Or did you reach out? It sounds like the first customer is more inbound. And then you guys solve their problem by creating this solution.

Is that where most of your customers come from? It’s more inbound of them contacting you, or do you guys also do like outbound, like actively aggressively trying to get ahold of somebody at X airline and, you know, get a meeting and that kind of thing. Or do you just wait for them to contact you when they’re ready?

Mark (32:29.719)
question is now it’s a little both. We still, we’re, we’re tripled down effectively on what’s worked for us because we, um, we have a great voice. We have a great brand, great message, uh, in the industry. We don’t do hard sales. So events, if like we’re speaking event, we won’t sell our product. We’ll sell everything else except the product that we do. So we’ll talk about how they can do all these other things or things we’re seeing in the industry or his five tips to do.

X and none of it will be about our company at all, but what it does, it elevates them and us and their minds about who we are, what we do. Uh, all these great benefits that come along with that. So we continue doing that because that’s great. Uh, yes, you are right. We started doing more called direct marketing, um, more of a targeted approach. Some of these brands, you know, they work on, on sales, like sales cycles. So they don’t, they don’t waste budgets available.

Mark (33:28.527)
for certain things and always ready to do, to work with us. Um, we just want to be there at the right time. Uh, you know, we don’t, we don’t do things like participate in RFPs or anything like not interested in that. Actually, I was on a, I had an event just last week talking about this exact topic about other startups and they were sharing experiences of how difficult it is to sell their product into airlines and how, how they are handling it. And

Paris Vega (33:42.220)

Mark (33:57.351)
One of them said, you know, Mark, how do you, how do you deal with RFPs? And I said, I’m not interested at all in them. You know, we’re, we’re the best. And so if they think there’s someone else they should deal with, go, go deal with them. But we are by far just not interested. Cause once you go, it’s, it’s a really, once you go into that cycle of competing with others, like if you really are good, you sort of suppressed a bit in what you’re doing, you know? So, um,

Paris Vega (34:13.347)

Mark (34:26.539)
We try and stay away from that and constantly change and innovate our product. So what we created two years ago, well, you know, is, is a little bit different to what we do today. It’s been iterations obviously of the, of the software over time. And a lot of it’s actually to make our clients more money, make it faster for them. So, uh, I think it’s important for.

Paris Vega (34:42.732)

Paris Vega (34:49.027)

Mark (34:54.127)
especially brands in our position, you know, we’re still a startup technically to constantly innovate, constantly, constantly evolve the product. Not to the point where you’re creating new features and it’s just too, too much, but to the point where it makes sense for who you’re selling it to. So we’ve done pretty well at that. Um, to your original point here about direct, um, marketing, um,

Paris Vega (35:21.572)

Mark (35:23.531)
A little bit more of it because, yeah, we do. We do more of it now. It’s a new thing for us because we’ve been so focused on content, content, content, that sort of going on a harder sell, flying somewhere specifically for one meeting, this kind of thing is a little bit new for us. But I think it’s worked quite well. We get a lot of, you know, you have

catch up our phone calls like, Oh, I saw you on this podcast. I saw you on this thing. I read your article on this. So actually just last week, no kidding. This is real story. Me and my partner were walking out of a hotel in London and we’re getting a, we’re getting a taxi to go to this other hotel for a dinner. And this taxi just happened. A taxi happens to pull up front of the hotel. This guy gets out and he’s got some bags. It’s clearly check in.

Paris Vega (35:57.406)
Yeah, you’re right.

Mark (36:21.015)
gets it and the first thing he looks at, the first thing he says is, Oh, you’re Mark Rolse Smith. No idea who this guy is. And then, and then he turns to my business partner and says, Oh, you’re Phil, who’s my business partner. Like, what the heck? I don’t live here in London. You know, just totally random. He goes, Oh, I’m, I’m, I’m, uh, Oli, his name was, um, you know, I, I work with

Mark (36:52.163)
quite a few blocks from where we were going for this event. Right. So it wasn’t like it was the closest place or everyone was there. And I thought, this is nice. This is kind of all the getting real life recognition for all the content and all the stuff we’re putting out there. I’d never met the guy. And we’re seeing a few of these loops closing like that where, you know, people come up to you and say, you know, I read this, I saw this. Oh, I liked how you did this. All right. These kinds of things. And so that’s kind of evidence to us that that has worked.

Paris Vega (37:22.814)
Yeah, for sure. You’re becoming famous within the niche of the people who are paying attention to what you’re doing.

Mark (37:30.963)
Exactly. It’s a small niche. It’s not, not like, it’s not a big celebrity out there. But like with within that within that very small group of maybe a few hundred people around the world. Yes.

Paris Vega (37:33.126)

Paris Vega (37:36.734)
Right, right.

Paris Vega (37:41.806)
That’s awesome. So you’ve kind of got two target customers. You’ve got the airlines themselves and then the people who are wanting to take flights and that you’re wanting to convert to the status match programs. When they sign up with an airline signs up with you, do you also do like a marketing campaign or something to drive them to the…

Maybe a new, is it a status match page on your side or something like that? Or do they just send their marketing dollars that direction or how, what’s the kind of marketing logistics there of how you, uh, run one of these campaigns?

Mark (38:22.403)
This is a good question. Traditionally, airlines would have put up a page on their website and say, send us an email with a screenshot of your goal status with this airline, and we’ll, you know, four to six weeks, we’ll process it, which is terrible, really, really terrible. You can’t track it. There’s no, how do you, anyway. Worry a bit about airlines and what they’ve been doing previously. So we generally create like a white label page, like a landing page.

Paris Vega (38:28.877)

Mark (38:51.383)
for these brands. So it’s their brand, their look and feel, their brand style guidelines, their it’s, it’s theirs effectively. We host it, we do everything else. And we, so the airline traditionally would send out, you know, press release something to that effect and promote it. No cost channels on their own and media. And so they, they go do their thing. Cause they’re an airline that got totally different contacts and ways of doing things than, than we do, which is good, which is good. Then we go do our thing.

Paris Vega (38:54.888)

Paris Vega (39:15.554)

Mark (39:20.735)
all the below the line stuff. So we know, you know, all the industry, it’s like 120 industry bloggers, you know, we contact them all. I’ve got relations with a lot of them. Um, some other media partners, forums, um, business travel website. We kind of go do the deals that airlines can’t or won’t do as well. Sometimes they’re just, they’re just not set up for it. Uh, they’re, you know, it’s like you work, if you work at a big company and you’re trying to spend.

Paris Vega (39:29.627)

Paris Vega (39:43.447)

Mark (39:50.031)
any money at all on media. Like imagine the red tape you’ve got to go internally, you’ve got to go through to do that, right? This could be a three month process, right? 10 different approvals and, oh, we don’t have the budget. We’ve got to wait till next quarter to unlock this monopoly money. We won’t pay for another six months after anyway. So we just, we just cut straight to the chase. Go do it. We, I mean, there’s media that will, will contact someone and we’re live that day on the next day. You know, how

Paris Vega (39:56.530)
Oh yeah. For sure.

Mark (40:19.175)
In our mind, that’s how it should be done. Very, very fast, very agile test and learn test, see if it works. If it doesn’t, if it doesn’t work, you know, move on. So we bring this sort of marketing piece to it as well. And that, that drives a lot more people into the airline brand that otherwise wouldn’t, wouldn’t have seen these kinds of messages. So putting, putting money behind it in meet in paid media, in addition to earn media that a line might, might get through traditional channels.

Paris Vega (40:24.238)

Mark (40:47.935)
I think this combination works really well. So in that respect, I think this is an example where a big brand working with a small organization is a very good relationship. They do what they do really well and like keep doing that. And then we do what we do, go out and do that really well. And the combination of these means you cover pretty much everything you need to or you can in a timely manner as well.

Paris Vega (41:00.424)

Paris Vega (41:07.862)

Paris Vega (41:17.674)
So the airline, do they pay you in addition to the fee that you get so that you can run all these marketing campaigns or you just say, well, we’re going to make revenue from this. So we’re going to take some of that potential revenue of these conversions and use it for our marketing budget.

Mark (41:34.179)
There’s been a bit of both. Sometimes they’ll, they’ll put some, some doors into it. Sometimes we take a chunk. Sometimes we take a risk and we’ll go out and just, you know, do deals that make sense. I mean, obviously in line with their brand, you know, it’s a lot of caveats here. It’s not just us cowboys out there doing our thing. That was easy.

Paris Vega (41:35.615)

Paris Vega (41:40.439)

Paris Vega (41:54.174)
And who are the roles at the airlines that are your target customer? Who are the ones that would make this decision to sign up for a program like this with you?

Mark (42:03.895)
generally a loyalty team. Uh, so the loyalty, loyalty marketing, uh, commercial, these kind of folks, uh, which, you know, in the last few years have got a lot more power at airlines, like I mentioned, the loyalty programs, like if you, if you want to pitch in something to an airline and it makes sense, you go to the loyalty people because they’re designed, they’re set up to make money. Whereas if you go to like a revenue management or, you know, the, the wifi or the seats or the in-flight.

Paris Vega (42:05.866)
loyalty team. Okay.

Mark (42:33.503)
food or, you know, all these different areas that like they’re just seen as cost centers. Right. So it, you’re going to loyalty. If you’ve got a really good idea, a really good product, something that makes sense, especially if you can pay the money that they’re actually designed to take your money. So a lot easier to deal with. Um, so, you know, they take money. That’s great. Next best thing is free for them.

Paris Vega (42:49.954)
Hmm. Yeah.

Paris Vega (42:57.566)
Right. And so that’s like an extension of the marketing department, or is it just totally separate at these big airlines like this? There’s just a whole loyalty department specifically.

Mark (43:05.591)
Generally intertwined. Some, some of the big, big airline brands that a lot of department can be hundreds of people, some of the smaller ones I’ve seen teams as small as three. Some as well, actually one, one, I guess is the smallest. Uh, like yeah, anywhere between one and five, 600 people that can be quite big. Followed to keep my loads. Those department can be worth more than the whole airline itself in terms of valuation, right? So to, to the point where. In 2020.

Paris Vega (43:07.416)

Paris Vega (43:16.093)

Paris Vega (43:33.153)

Mark (43:36.279)
one, I believe, the, you know, United, the first one was United airlines. They effectively mortgage their lots of program for $5 billion to secure a government loan, uh, again, with the federal government that they, they secured 5 billion, but the valuation was nearly $30 billion, just, just the loads. So this is not the planes, the pilots, the fuel, the all this, not, not none of that, just the mileage plus program. And what that meant it was worth.

two and a half times what the, the market capitalization of the company, of the entire United Alliance was just that one little, one division. So there’s a lot, there’s a lot of power, there’s a lot of money there. And so, you know, if you can tap into that piece of the, like, you know, I think what I’ve learned in, you know, having a few startups is being as sort of niche as possible, sort of really drilling down, just, just, just owning the heck out of this one little piece.

That’s all you need. You don’t need this big, giant generic thing that does everything. It’s just too hard to, you got too much competition, but if you just sort of drill down and go really, really, you know, just own the heck out of your one little piece of the world, uh, you didn’t do really well at it.

Paris Vega (44:36.235)

Paris Vega (44:50.720)

Paris Vega (44:54.810)
Awesome. I think that’s a great place to end it, man. Niche down as much as possible. I think you’ve kind of defined this content marketing strategy. That’s you could call it literally beating around the bush and not ever, you know, focusing in on exactly what you’re doing. You literally just beat around the bush with all your content that you put out and kind of create this kind of gravity of attention.

slowly that focuses in on as they’re reading all these other helpful things, they’ll notice, Oh, this is from status match. And this is the status match guys. Again, you know, you’re building up that, that brand and that goodwill. In your niche market. I guess that’s for the actual, are you producing more content for the flyers or for the airlines?

Mark (45:44.395)
You bang on here. It’s a pop post on LinkedIn the other day. And it was a picture of a first-class seat. I’d just flown back from, uh, London last week and it was on, um, on, uh, on, uh, Emirates. And so I just put this picture of it’s just a subtle, like of the boarding pass. My board of it says first-class and you know, the plane in the background looks nice and you know, it’s like, you know, had a great event, you know, look forward coming home, all this kind of stuff.

Um, Oh no, I said I slept the entirety of my flights. It’s like, did I waste my experience by not going to the bar and drinking thousand dollars, champ bottle of champagne on the flight, did I waste it by sleeping the entire flight? So who is the same dad is the same dad. At airlines or travels. I don’t know. I think it’s a bit of both. Uh, and did I mention status match in that, in that post? No, but it gets a lot of engagement and you know, I’ve got

Paris Vega (46:38.604)

Mark (46:43.239)
almost 10 messages off the back of that post, two big airline brands as well. So it’s, I think…

Paris Vega (46:48.726)
Wow. Because it’s in your bio, like it’s always under your name on all the social platforms. So you’re getting kind of this subtle branding every time you get engagement.

Mark (46:52.575)
Yeah, exactly.

Mark (47:00.187)
Exactly. I mean, at the end of the day, everyone’s a traveler. Even if you work for an airline, you’re still a traveler. You’re well, hopefully you are for an airline, because you’re probably getting cheap flights. Like you, everyone wants to go somewhere. You know, everyone’s like, I need to go to X. Somewhere I need to go. Um, you know, I’ve always wanted to.

Mark (47:22.371)
climb mountains. I’ve wanted to see the pyramids. I want to go see the Eiffel Tower. I want to go to Asia and see the, I want to street food in Penang. I want, I want, there’s always, someone’s got something on their list. So travels that sort of ingrained in us. It’s in our DNA. And when you see, I guess it’s like Instagram, you know, you know, they put their big photos of all their travel stuff and people look at, oh yeah, it’s like, it’s aspirational. You know, that’ll be me one day. I’ll get there. So there’s a bit of that as well.

Paris Vega (47:28.236)

Paris Vega (47:49.598)
Yeah. Right. I think there’s another startup in here that you could build called like status make or something for us with no status who wants status, who wants some kind of airline status to try out because I haven’t traveled nearly enough to have any kind of airline status. So I definitely have that. Hey, I want to go see all these things, but without the status to even transfer.

Mark (48:13.367)
My friend, I am working on that already. So stay, stay tuned. Cause you act, this is a, it’s a really good point you make because there is millions of people out there that don’t have status on airline, but once you’ve tried it, once you’ve had a taste of it, you don’t want to let it go, right? So it’s the, when you arrive at the airport, it’s, you’re not checking in, in the big, long, snaky coach line, you’re going straight to the first class line. It’s a nice red carpet.

Paris Vega (48:15.638)
Are you serious? We’re in sync.

Paris Vega (48:26.732)

Paris Vega (48:30.530)
Mm. Sure.

Mark (48:41.163)
Judy’s there to welcome you. Welcome back. You know, great. Oh, you’re one of our most loyal customers. You know, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve moved you up to, you know, the better seat today. You were in two way. I put you in one. It’s a much better seat. It’s just these small things, but they make the world of difference. And then it’s like, so look, um, the, the, you know, the, the TSA is blinds a bit long today. So I’m just going to take you through the special VIP line. Don’t tell on you.

Paris Vega (48:41.278)

Paris Vega (48:54.286)
I’m going to go.

Paris Vega (48:57.983)

Mark (49:11.091)
There’s that and then there’s, you know, you know, um, especially in, in, uh, in a North America, if you, if you’re not in like those first one or two groups to board the aircraft, you can say goodbye about putting your stuff in overhead bin. So, you know, having that platinum status or whatever, it gets a bit addictive. You know, you start enjoying the perks, you get used to it, you get comfortable. You want more of it. And I think, you know, when, when you try it out.

Paris Vega (49:26.955)

Mark (49:40.979)
you, this part of your internally and you, you, you strive to want to keep it. So you’ll, you’ll try it once. So how do, how do I keep this platinum status? What does it take? Oh, I just need to do 74 flights. Just need to do this. I only need to spend $15,000. It’s like, it’s totally worth it. I get.

Paris Vega (49:48.991)

Mark (50:04.203)
You know, I understand I get to go in the lounge before the flight. It’s totally worth 15,000 bucks to have this $20 bottle of wine before my flight.

Paris Vega (50:14.114)
So it’ll be kind of like a free trial of the status, in a sense.

Mark (50:19.735)
That could be something. Yeah. It comes up. It’s I think, you know, there’s a bunch of folks out there that don’t know what they’re missing and, uh, I think there’s an opportunity to do something. So I’ll sign up one of our first customers when we do that. And then that’ll be, that’s like, you could do your own podcast. Cause you could be my first customer on the next week. Yeah. Yeah.

Paris Vega (50:22.335)

Paris Vega (50:26.094)
For sure.

Paris Vega (50:37.634)
Hey, hey, I’m open to that. All right, well, real quick to wrap it up, why don’t you speak directly to your target customers, maybe on both sides, what’s that pitch for them coming to Status Match using the service?

Mark (50:52.683)
Yeah. So for, I mean, travel brands, airlines, hotels, car, rental, cruise lines, casinos as well. We help you acquire new high value customers quick, quickly, uh, cheaper, more effectively than you can in any other possible channel out there. And for, for travelers, so people with silver, gold, platinum, like some kind of status with an airline, hotel, car rental, uh, just go to status match.com register for free. Uh, and when there is something available for you that might be of interest, we just let you know.

Paris Vega (51:20.922)
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Mark. I learned a lot today, and I’m sure that other people did too. And we’ll see everybody next episode.


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