21 & Up

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I never imagined I'd wake up to 15 degrees (Celsius, I'm not converting) on my 21st birthday. If you asked me at the beginning of university, I would predict that I'd be stressed with my first year of business school and recruiting. A few years earlier, I could have expected this occasion to be a lot bigger, as I had my eyes set on a few US schools, where being 21 brings new-found legality. 

I've written a lot about career advice, choosing pathways, and learning about tech, but I've rarely touched upon the idea of personal development. Not for the sake of scoring a top internship, or making a lot of money, but for truly becoming a better person. Figuring out what makes you tick. Understanding what you did, why you did it, and how that changes what you plan to do. 

It's always a sprint 

As humans, we're very used to 'sprinting' in life. You 'sprint' in high school to get the best grades. Then you 'sprint' in university to get the best internships. Typically, if you 'sprint' for 4 months during an internship, you'll get a full-time offer. Then it's the next sprint — moving up the corporate ladder, exiting from a job you hate into a job you hate less, or rinsing and repeating if you still have no clue

My first few months here followed a similar mentality. I was determined to be the highest performer on my team, put in the most hours, and produce the most results. And for the first few months, it appeared to be working. I launched some unique campaigns, met interesting people, and... I started getting a little bored. 

I expected San Francisco to be this new challenge in my life that would be impossible to surmount, and I'd extract something incredible from it. In reality, I was still working at a company (as awesome as it is), doing fairly typical work, with better weather. It was around this time (November) that I hit a wall and started contemplating why this time was different from the rest of my life / more recent experiences. 

With a typical internship, you're typically put on projects that are short-term in nature, or you play a small part in a larger project. One of my old bosses told me 

At the end of the day, you’re here to learn. I might send you down a rabbit hole with no results, but if you learned something from it, that’s a win

In contrast, being here for a year, a lot of my responsibilities were larger in focus. I was responsible for content projects that went through several rounds of review. I launched email campaigns that took a few months to complete. And I realized that I suck. 

The results from my campaigns were fairly dismal and the content pieces weren't revolutionary. This 'sprint' mentality, for the first time, had failed. Despite numerous blog posts and cool internships, I was, (at best) a mediocre marketer. Why was that the case? 

Still Only 21 

I started reflecting on a lot of goals I had leading up to this point in my life, and how they played out. You compete for the best universities in high school, then the best jobs in university, and finally the best 'exit opportunities' from those same highly coveted jobs. Life is a constant circle of 'sprints', until you realize the majority of those sprints (in context) were meaningless. At the end of the day, I'm still a 21 y/o undergrad that has never held a real job, just as I was at 18, and 14, etc. 

My friend group here has given me a lot of perspective this issue. Two of my roommates are from Wharton, arguably the best business school in the world. A few of my older friends left investment banks and are onto new careers. They've all achieved those conventional levels of success, but spending time with them has given me a new look on the 'sprint' mentality. 

For instance, they think a lot more than I do. Conversations are rarely dominated by recruiting or gossip, as I often led them to be in university, but instead about what books we're reading, challenges we're facing, and projects / ideas that intrigue us. From these conversations, I realize how limited I am in various aspects of life (i.e. handling relationships, mental health, political views). This hasn't led to any enlightenment by any means — but being in such a different environment has led me to the following conclusions on my 21st birthday. 

Goals 

Having already failed a rather superficial New Year's Resolution, I'll take my early birthday as an opportunity to set some public goals that build on what I've mentioned above for this year, and (hopefully) reject the 'sprint' mentality I've often fell into, and start striving for real personal development. 

(1) Reading 

In university, I've often had to read 70-100 pages per week of dense material on everything from early political philosophers to the economic development of African nations. They were interesting, but I regretfully read them with one purpose — regurgitation and application to their respective course. I rarely applied any of my learning to my own life, or used it to challenge or develop my personal perspectives. 

Hence, a goal of mine is to dive a lot deeper into various genres of books this year that will make me a better person. I want to be able to comment on politics and economics beyond what I read in the news — and have sound reasoning behind why I believe what I do. I want to be deliberate with the time I spend outside of work — the hobbies I have, and why I'm interested in them. 

The following books / authors are a start to what I'm hoping to read: 

  • Epictetus
  • Principles by Ray Dalio (100pg note) 
  • The Upside of Inequality (Edward Conard) 
  • The Lessons of History (Will & Ariel Durant)
  • River out of Eden (Richard Dawkins) 
  • Hero with a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell) 
  • The Sovereign Individual (James Dale Davidson)
  • Status Anxiety (Alain de Botton)
  • A History of Western Philosophy (Bertrand Russell)
  • Reasons and Persons (Derek Parfit)  

(2) Personal Health 

I've neglected my health over the past few years in a number of ways — for starters, being a university student, both my sleep schedule (sleeping 5am to 12pm) and diet were atrocious.

Hence, I'm making the commitment to become an early riser, ideally waking up at 6am and sleeping by 11pm. I've tried this with a fairly low success rate over the past few weeks, but I plan to be more religious with it in the coming year. 

I'm also committing to home-cooked meals by buying a Costco membership and using apps like MyFitnessPal to track my progress. I know both sound pretty lame, but I think it's a solid start. I've also have some aspirations for gym / weight goals that I'll deliberately leave out for fear of public shaming. 

(3) Mentors & Skill Development 

I have some incredible people in my life that help to guide my decisions and career path, but I rarely put any deliberate work into finding + nurturing those relationships. First Round put out a great post on how to find a mentor which I've been following, narrowing down my approach to both early-stage founders and growth marketers. Expect a post in the new month or two on this!

I also want to give back in whatever way I can, so if you're reading this and need help / advice with anything, don't be afraid to reach out. I've been scolded in the past for doing this, but I promise you I won't give you the response I once got below. Unless you use a drip sequence like I did... Then I'll commend you on the hustle. 

Shoutout to drip sequences and marketing! 

Regarding skill development, I'm learning an incredible amount about marketing and growth through my current role, so I have no direct plans around that. However, I am going to make an effort this year to learn how to code. There's an incredible amount of literature out there on the value of coding, even at least knowing what's possible / how to read it, so I'm committing to that for the year. 

Conclusion 

Despite all my ramblings about enlightenment, learning, and perspectives regarding life, I want to make it clear that (being 21) this year will still be filled with debauchery, terrible mistakes, and new realizations. I'm not even halfway through my time in California, and I can't wait for how the rest of it plays out. Thank you to everyone's that made this a blast thus far, I wouldn't be writing this without you. 

My failed startup

   

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It would be the app that changed the way people lived — the next Uber / Airbnb / Instacart. I finally found a gap in the market that seemingly didn't have anyone else, so naturally I went full throttle on making it happen. And it failed... Miserably. 

Entrepreneurship is flooding college campuses across the world. Every student, from Ivy League schools to community colleges, has an inclination towards starting their own company. Movies like The Social Network and shows like Silicon Valley have glorified startups to the point where "Co-Founder & CEO" is a LinkedIn title almost more prevalent in a university town than San Francisco itself. 

Schools are jumping on the trend as well. There are more than 1200 university business incubators worldwide, which is 50% more than the number of business schools accredited by the AACSB. This shouldn't be surprising; after all, some of the greatest minds in tech are university drop-outs. But the bigger question is whether this trend hurts or helps university students, and whether the vast majority are prepared for or understand the work it takes to start a business. 

You too can change the world! 

Most college students have an idea for a startup that involves one or multiple of the following: 

  1. Beer / alcohol 
  2. Textbooks / notes 
  3. Housing
  4. Partying  

In most cases, it's tied together with the use of a marketplace app, this being an app that creates a community for two parties (often buyers / sellers) to interact. For a company like Uber, that's connecting drivers and people looking for rides. 

Why marketplace apps? Because they're exciting, social, and can go viral quickly. The allure of expanding to new cities (campuses) and growing a user base is much better than cold-calling & emailing businesses to sell software. 

The rather limited list of ideas is a product of the life of a university student. We often want to make ideas that solve problems we face day-to-day, and those few ideas generally sum up the lives of a lot of university students (myself included). The issue is that there's a problem with the marketplace app + university ideas that really hurts the idea of entrepreneurship. 

The vast majority of profitable, successful businesses are not game-changing or explosive. They take time to validate, rework, and grow. Basecamp, a project management tool, is a great example of this. Founder & CEO, Jason Fried, gives some insight into their story

You don’t have to be Apple, or Amazon, you don’t have to be a wildly-growing company. You can be a really great company building something useful for your customers and treating them well, treating your employees well, and making a great living.

This is a stark contrast to the typical approach of raising tons of capital, growing users, and disregarding revenue or profitability. There's countless examples of startups that pursue this path, and that entices students to think the same way. They rely on "X months of runway" to power a frantic attitude and brutal work culture, in hopes to finding a model that works. Heck, some even IPO without figuring that part out. 

Relentless validation 

I'm guilty of this too. My game-changing idea in 2015 was to create a marketplace for students to lend and rent items. I was frustrated by how much stuff I'd collected over the year, but also wish I could temporarily access items like speakers, DJ sets, and musical instruments for a night at a low cost.

So after polling a few friends, I decided to build an MVP and start gathering users. I paid a firm in India to make a clickable concept, and started building a business model and slidedeck on how it would work. I had learned this approach from previous pitch competitions and startup weekends who preach the idea of 5-year plans and business strategies to make ideas happen. This was my first mistake. 

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What I should have done is researched and validated my idea, thoroughly. As unsexy as it sounds, I should have spent a few weeks knocking on the doors of the numerous dorms on campus, gathering emails and polling students on what they thought about the idea. A lot of university incubators back this approach, but unfortunately it isn't enough. 

The reality is that most people say they'll buy / support something, but may not actually. It's better to understand whether people find value in your product, and even better, are willing to put money behind it right away. This pulls from the van Westendorp Price Sensitivity Meter, where you test multiple models before sticking behind one. 

I learned from this in my next attempt to build a startup, which was essentially an AI for content marketing. I called and met with marketers at a number of startups, diving into the problems I thought they had, how they were trying to solve it, and what the gaps are. It wasn't pretty; it took about 6-8 weeks to gather enough information to realize the idea wasn't feasible. 

This sucks. But it's necessary, and this is disappointing in an age of instant gratification. This is especially true on college campuses, where students are constantly prepping for the next test or internship interview, operating on short timelines and goals. We want results right away, and that's not the case with entrepreneurship. 

Fill the crack, don't build the bridge 

The one piece of advice I get from successful startup founders is to fill the crack, don't build the bridge. It's a million times easier to solve small problems for big markets than to try and create a new market for an unseen problem.

Think about software that measures the happiness of corporate employees and gives an aggregated report to management every week. Say it requires workers to submit a 25-word paragraph at the end of each day to a 3rd party app, and the app uses sentiment analysis to show management how their employees are feeling. You can use existing frameworks for the analysis, and train it for what employees might report.

For validation, you can ask some small / medium-sized businesses in your area for their thoughts. Do they have a strong grasp on how employees are feeling? What are current mediums for giving feedback? How much time / money does that process currently take? 

Now contrast that to an app that tries to match students for housing. What are all the intricacies that go into finding a housemate? Who do you ask first? Is there a revenue model that doesn't rely on advertising? How is this better than a Facebook group? Do most students even have the problem of finding a housemate? 

This is an idea I've heard a few times since starting university, and while it sounds great, it's hard to validate and be profitable. However, it's sexy and initially appeals to a lot of university students. If someone knocked on your door and suggested it, asking if you'd sign up, you'd probably say yes. But would you pay for it? Do you really need it? 

Conclusion 

Entrepreneurship is the new fad, and game-changing startups are becoming more and more attractive. It's hard to take a step back and evaluate ideas before diving into them. It's even harder to reject wild ideas, and focus on smaller problems that are easier to validate.

At the end of the day, your startup may not change the world, but it can still change lives. Profitable startups provide livelihoods for their employees and support their families. These startups can support local charities and youth sports teams, while their employees can be crucial parts of local communities. That may not be game-changing, but it's pretty damn cool. 

Tone & voice: crafting content that fits your brand

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One of the most challenging things I've faced with my new role on Clearbit's Growth team is understanding our brand, and how that fits into the content we produce.

Coming into the role, I was pretty confident with my understanding of email marketing. I knew how to structure a campaign, and even wrote about it in terms of creating a nurture funnel and writing content for various purposes

What I lacked, however, was an understanding of the importance of a company's brand, and how this ties into the content you produce. This is a very large topic, so I'll be focusing primarily on email marketing & email content in this post. 

Separating company tone and personal tone 

As a liberal arts student, I spent a good chunk of my college career consuming content and writing essays. Unfortunately, the tone of an academic paper on the intersection between indigenous and formal economies in Egypt doesn't translate too well to that an outbound campaign for marketers that use Salesforce. 

Your company's brand and voice are naturally going to be very different from your own. Being a startup, our tone is very fun and casual. In a lot of ways, our content sounds a lot like a professional conversation between two friends compared to an expert lecturing a student on a complicated topic.  

For example, compare the two sentences below that talk about Clearbit: 

We’re really passionate about good data. Even after our system verifies a record, we have a dedicated team that checks to make sure it’s correct. Now that’s data you can count on!
Our data is industry-leading. Our system first parses through the contents of a record, then a dedicated quality assurance team verifies that the record is correct.

Both sentences are correct and address the validity of Clearbit data, but the first one embodies our brand a lot more than the second. Besides being more legible, the first sentence also conveys a tone of care and attention to the product, which can translate to a customer feeling more comfortable with a sensitive topic like data management. The second phrase sounds automated and robotic, which is not the best impression for a data company. 

Nobody likes a computer 

Automated emails are a hit or miss — if it sounds like a human wrote it, there's a good chance that the recipient will react and respond. If not, it'll probably be deleted immediately. 

While larger companies and smaller companies may differ in tone, they both understand that content needs to appear human. That means ensuring that any attempts at a mail merge are seamless, and the flow of the email is natural. Choppy sentences or obvious substitutions based on industry, role, etc, will backfire. 

At Clearbit, we dogfood by including a lot of the data we return to our clients in our marketing efforts. That also means that the Liquid in an email template can get quite extensive, and needs to be flawless when sent. 

An email that references the wrong name of a recipient, or has a poor fallback, will be recognized immediately as automated. Hence, we extensively test our emails before any of them go live. 

Marketing vs Sales 

The last piece to content tone is whether it is designed as a marketing campaign or a sales campaign. The two have very different purposes, and need to be built accordingly.

A marketing email is often designed to qualify a lead for the sales team, and can have a broader scope of CTAs and reactions than a sales email. The email may be designed to get the recipient to click a link, or complete a conversion (i.e. signup for the product). This means that there is a lot more freedom with design (compared to plain text) and the contents of the email can be a lot more liberal (GIFs, use of bold, etc). 

In contrast, a sales email is generally designed to get the prospect to respond back and schedule a meeting with the sales rep. This means it should not appear to have any aspect of automation or appear generic, as these emails are meant to be sent on a 1:1 basis. Often the prospect is already qualified, so the opening hook could be very specific (i.e. based on the technology they use) or a trigger that has already been completed (i.e. visiting the pricing page). 

See two examples of emails below (signatures removed), and pick which is a marketing email and which is a sales email:  

First Email

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Second Email

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The former is a sales email: having plain text, and having a specific ask at the end. The latter is a marketing email: it includes an image, has a more relaxed tone, and the CTA is to click a link opposed to reply back. Since marketing emails are generally sent in mass (i.e. 2,000 recipients), the goal of getting a response is actually discouraged, whereas a sales campaign is the exact opposite. 

Conclusion 

A good email campaign can take a dedicated 1-2 hours to crank out, even if it's only 1 or 2 emails in length. At larger organizations, this can include passing it by multiple teams for input and approval. A sales campaign that targets 200 qualified prospects with an ACV of $200,000 could be extremely costly if executed poorly. 

Tone that matches your brand is incredibly important, and can ultimately make or break whether you have a high engagement rate or get sent directly to the spam folder.

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#triggered - using intent in marketing campaigns

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Human beings are predictable. The common initial reaction to this is anger and disgust - how dare someone make such a generalization?! Freedom of choice and speech is the essence of civilized society, and there can't possibly be predictability to that. 

And to some extent, that rebuttal is right. Humans aren't ENTIRELY predictable, but in a lot of ways, we are. Our demographics, geographic location, and lifestyle choices have an incredible influence on how we behave and interact with the world around us. 

The prime example of this is Facebook Advertising. With substantial amounts of data on you, Facebook can sell spaces on your timeline to brands that want you to engage with them. This is already intriguing at a surface level, but where it really gets interesting is with retargeting. 

My new job has led me to be aggressively retargeted by software companies on my personal Facebook account.

My new job has led me to be aggressively retargeted by software companies on my personal Facebook account.

If you visit a brand's website, they can tag you with a pixel that connects to your Facebook account. Then, when setting up their Facebook Ads, they can retarget you on Facebook with messaging having known that you've already been on their site. I'll dive deeper into ads in another post, but the main concept here is identifying intent

What gets you hooked? 

In digital marketing, there are indicators in every facet of a business that demonstrate the intent of a user. I've gone over this a bit in one of my earlier posts, and how each page on a website has a different purpose for the visitor. The pricing page might be geared to getting an email from or demo scheduled with the visitor, whereas the case study page might be designed to educate the visitor on the product. 

Just as how a visitor that hits your pricing page has a certain type of intent, your customers/users have different levels of intent depending on their interaction with your product. This is where marketing can really shine - instead of guessing at a vague buyer persona, you can use the data you collect to really dig into what your ideal buyer looks like, and how they progress throughout your funnel. 

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That was a bit of a jump, so I'll walk through a cheesy example (literally) to make it clearer. Imagine you're running a pizza deals + delivery app, and you're trying to figure out what marketing campaigns to run. The goal is essentially to drive more revenue, but where do you start? 

Ask yourself the following questions about your existing users: 

  1. How many days does it take for a user to go from registering for the app to ordering their 1st pizza? What does this order typically include? 
  2. How many days does it take for a user to order a 2nd pizza after their 1st? What do these orders typically include? 
  3. Which users order more than a single pizza? What times are these types of orders most popular? 

Starting with those fairly basic questions, we can start to identify the intent of our users BEYOND just buying a pizza / downloading the app. For example, the following conclusions might be able to be drawn: 

  1. 90% of users order their 1st pizza within 2 hours of downloading the app. The average order is (1) medium pizza. Of those users, 40% used a discount code that gets them free delivery.
  2. Users typically order their 2nd pizza about (2) days after their 1st. Only 15% of users had a 2nd order, but of those users, 60% had used a discount code in the past. The majority of 2nd orders include (1) large pizza and 1lb of wings.  
  3. Users with their credit card attached to the app are 2x more likely to have larger orders. These orders are most popular between 11pm and 2am on Friday and Saturday. 

These insights are all incredibly powerful. Each point above indicates a level of intent from the user, and a hypothesis that can be tested by the marketer in a data-driven way. 

A/B Testing?! 

The gut reaction to hearing the word 'test' in relation to marketing is to suggest an A/B test. Just run two different versions of the campaign, and whichever converts better wins! This is great in theory, but in practice there needs to be more thought put into how the campaigns will work. There should be reasoning behind each test version and a desired outcome + way to track it. 

Given that we're already pretty baked into this pizza example, lets run with it to get some ideas for campaigns to test. See below for a breakdown of the campaign name, goal, and details following the number format above. 

#1: Free Delivery Campaign

  • Purpose: offer free delivery as an in-app push notification while on the checkout page, see if this increases the chance of conversion (completing an order) for users who just signed up.
  • A/B test: can free delivery increase the order value? Try only offering free delivery if they add a side to their order. 
  • Logic: 40% of first users are using a discount code at checkout, meaning that's probably an incentive to download + use the app in the first place, so let's test on everyone else. 

#2: Better with Friends 

  • Methodology: send a push notification with a discount code if user splits with a friend (on the app). See whether this increases order value + conversion in comparison to the core group. 
  • A/B test: split order with or without discount code - see what effect the code has on orders if the user is already prompted to split. 
  • Logic: the order size of pizza and wings is fairly large, so we can assume it's for more than one person. If we test to split the cost, we not only can increase order value but also the amount of people on the app.

#3: Late Night Munchies 

  • Methodology: send a push notification around 10pm to encourage impulse purchases after a night out. Compare campaign conversion rate to typical conversion rate. 
  • A/B test: messaging could be especially interesting here, whether appealing to club/bar go-ers, or people that stayed in for other reasons. 
  • Logic: help suppliers by encouraging purchases before the peak 11pm to 2am times. Delivery usually takes 30-45 minutes, so correct messaging can get users their food on time VS ordering last-minute. 

Conclusion 

It's easy to come up with marketing campaigns based on general assumptions, but it's hard to justify the spend on them or the structure of the test. Looking for user intent through data is the ideal way to setup trigger campaigns that leverage what you already expect your users to do. And while it is a little sad that humans are becoming more and more predictable, at least we will all get discounted pizza! 

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Intro to Digital Marketing

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Gearing up for my podcast this Wednesday with Nspire, I thought I would use this post to summarize the practical part of what I plan to say. Namely, the hard skills you should start building if you want to have a career in digital marketing. 

The Marketing Stack 

There are a number of skillsets that comprise the job of a digital marketer, and are summarized quite nicely in this post by Buffer. I’ve organized them below with short descriptions: 

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): increasing the chances your product will be found in a search engine. Learn more here (Part I & Part II)
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM): using paid advertisements (Facebook Ads, Google Ads) to promote your product. 
  • Content Marketing: the creation of content (video, articles, etc) for your product, with various purposes. Learn more in this post
  • Marketing Attribution: tracking the performance of your marketing efforts (i.e. conversion rates). Learn more in this post
  • Email Marketing: the use of email to communicate with leads or customers. Learn more in this post
  • Partnerships/PR: using other mediums (i.e. news, social media) to gain traction for your product.
  • Offline Marketing: the use of events and in-person tactics to promote your product. 

The goal is to have a general understanding of all of the above areas, but know a select few (1–2) very well. This gives you versatility as a digital marketer, but also a unique value proposition depending on where you are an expert. For me, my t-shape looks something like the image below: 

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Tools for Marketing  

Every company has a different combination of tools they use for marketing, but knowing how to use + having a basic understanding of a few can be helpful. I’ve listed the main ones I’ve noticed below: 

  • Content: platforms like Medium are very easy to use, but you can take it a step further by knowing tools like Wordpress or Squarespace. Learning Mailchimp is great for email marketing. 
  • Analysis: the gold standard is Google Analytics, and their academy is free to attend! Excel is very useful, along with SQL, to pull your own data. There’s a free tutorial on the latter here
  • Testing: tools like Optimizely and Unbounce are very common, to A/B test ideas and landing pages. 
  • SEO/SEM: AdEspresso breaks down Facebook Ads pretty thoroughly, while Google Academy covers their ad network. Check out Neil Patel’s podcasts for more on SEO. 

Nailing down some of these skills will make your value proposition as a digital marketer clear, and make it considerably easier to secure a job or internship. If you’re not sure how to start looking, you can read this post.

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My Next Chapter: San Francisco

Full credits to Steeve Vakeeswaran and his superhuman abilities to edit on Snapchat. 

Full credits to Steeve Vakeeswaran and his superhuman abilities to edit on Snapchat. 

As an individual, I consider myself to be rather untraditional. I chose an arts degree over a business one, a tech job over a corporate route, and I'm most involved in a fraternity opposed to a career or academically-inclined club. These things my parents have all eventually come to terms with. The taboo in my household is stopping my education - until now. 

One of my good friends sent me this tweet recently about an opening at a data enrichment startup called Clearbit in San Francisco. The ideal person had a background in sales/marketing, but also had a competency for data analysis and working knowledge of SQL. 

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Although I had already planned my coming year out fairly well, I'm always on the hunt for a new challenge. Having already done contract marketing work for a few startups, I thought this might be an opportunity to add to my experience. I sent off a quick email with my background, and followed up over Twitter to ensure he received it. He did - and wanted to chat the next day. 

After speaking with different members of the team, I received an offer to join Clearbit in a growth/marketing capacity. The role would be full-time, and I'd have to relocate to San Francisco. This brought up the tricky situation of deferring my schooling, as Western University unfortunately doesn't have a satellite campus in California. 

There were a million things flying through my head at the time, but I hope this post breaks down my thought process in an understandable way. 

The Mecca of Tech 

One of the biggest pulls to working at Clearbit was the fact that they were located in the heart of San Francisco, the place to be for anyone even remotely interested in tech. Having visited the Valley in February 2017, I knew this was the case, and wrote about all of my findings here.  This included the caliber of people and volume/intensity of tech companies that you can't find anywhere else. 

My favourite photo from my SF trip - getting to meet Evernote CEO (and Huron College graduate), Chris O'Neill.

My favourite photo from my SF trip - getting to meet Evernote CEO (and Huron College graduate), Chris O'Neill.

Although I did consider doing an internship in San Francisco next year, I knew it wouldn't be the same. It would take 1-2 months to get settled, and with a typical internship, that leaves practically no time to develop meaningful relationships and find your groove in the city. 

Hence, the only viable alternative was pursuing full-time employment. I can't predict what the landscape for visas and appetite for Canadians will be in 2019, so the only definite opportunity I had was now. 

Optimize for Learning 

It's often said that internships are great because they help you figure out what you want to do with your life. Knowing that I want to be in tech, I started my journey towards a final decision last summer. I found a strong interest in growth/marketing, and got deeper into the field during my sophomore year by doing contract marketing work for startups. Mid-way through the year, I knew that tech marketing was the perfect fit. 

With that in mind, my next goal was to optimize for learning. I've referenced the t-shape marketer by Buffer in past posts to show how every career path has a diverse skillset that one needs to learn in order to be successful in that practice. Having started the marketing & sales side, the other area to expose myself to was the data analysis end. This summer at Shopify, while interning in business operations, I was able to do exactly that. I worked with SQL every day, felt a lot more confident using Excel, and more importantly knew how to look at problems quantitatively and present ideas in a data-driven way. 

In the last few weeks, I've been reflecting over how I should spend my remaining years at university to continuously build my skillset. The reality is, the amount you can learn/do as an intern or contractor is limited. Even at an amazing company like Shopify, where I can tackle whatever I'm interested in, I still only have 3-4 months to make a tangible impact. Running a marketing campaign or overseeing the build-out of an attribution system is simply not something you can do in that short time period. 

The Waterloo Shopify intern crew

The Waterloo Shopify intern crew

Hence, the solution was to dive into full-time employment. I knew with this one-year timeline I'd be able to expose myself to a lot of problems that I hadn't seen before (given the smaller size of Clearbit), while also having a much greater amount of autonomy than I've had in the past. The most exciting part was that when I returned to school, I would know exactly what I needed to learn to become that much better of a marketer when I do graduate. 

Carpe Diem 

I read a post recently by Mark Andreessen, a prominent serial tech entrepreneur, that gave career advice to ambitious people. He states this about the idea of opportunity: 

They tend to present themselves when you're not expecting it -- and often when you are engaged in other activities that would seem to preclude you from pursuing them. And they come and go quickly -- if you don't jump all over an opportunity, someone else generally will and it will vanish.

I could have convinced myself that a similar opportunity would come up after graduation, and that taking a year off would simply put me behind in comparison to my peers. I could have also said that I was already in a good spot for employment, and a safer bet is just to enjoy my remaining years at university and take it easy. Instead, I decided to follow Andreessen's advice, and dive headfirst into an opportunity that could change the trajectory of my entire career. 

Conclusion + Acknowledgements 

I want to give a special shoutout to everyone that helped me make this decision, as is easily the hardest one I've had to make in my life. My parents and brother, for supporting yet another one of my crazy ideas, knowing that I (attempt to) do everything in my best interest. My friend & colleague Steeve Vakeeswaran, for finding this opportunity and helping me think through the decision. My mentors, Niles Lawrence and Jaxson Khan, who have always thrived on untraditional pathways, and reassure me that I can too. And also the handful of people who all recently had very similar experiences (you know who you are!), and act as some of the few references on this rocky road. 

I also want to give a shoutout to Huron University College, for being incredibly supportive in my decision, and helping me coordinate my deferral. Their liberal arts approach has also encouraged me to be critical of traditional pathways, while their tightly-knit community is a big reason why taking this opportunity was even a possibility.

Lastly, to Clearbit - I'm ecstatic to be given this opportunity, and I promise I'll make your risk worthwhile. 

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Marketing Data for Tech Companies

Tracking your user from lead to advocate. 

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For an early-stage startup, it's fairly common to create a set of buyer personas. The process normally evolves from making assumptions about what types of companies are the best fit for your product, and then talking with the sales team to validate said assumptions. While this is a good start, it's very temporary and hard to scale. 

Having worked with both large companies like Shopify Plus, and smaller startups like Turnstyle and #paid, I've seen the various models you can use to collect and work with marketing data, and the success these models have depending on company size and structure. In this article, I'm going to dive into the idea of marketing data and the role it should play in your company. 

Data from Day One

We all want to make data-driven decisions. There's an allure to throwing stats at your colleagues when proposing a product, refuting their weak, emotionally charged objections with cold, hard, data. The issue, however, with many startups is that their data set of customers and leads is simply not large enough to draw a logical conclusion on what works and what doesn't. This raises the challenge of when to make the jump from testing an idea to proposing an approach based on data. 

For example, most startups that specialize in the B2B space are going to be very sales-heavy in their early days. If you don't have a large customer base, budget, or inbound traffic, it may not make sense to invest in areas of marketing like content creation, lead nurturing, and retargeting. While I do address that notion in this article, it is worth noting the difference between collecting data and actioning data. 

A Strong Foundation 

I like to think about the relationship like hosting an event. Tickets for a conference will go on sale months before the actual date, and a number of the finer details will change based on registration. A smart planner might change a specific session focus if a large proportion of the attendees are from one industry. Notice that the focus of the event is unlikely to change, but data is being collected from day one. 

Changing conference seating based on attendees can increase engagement. 

Changing conference seating based on attendees can increase engagement. 

Likewise, if you are running a small startup and have yet to develop consistency in your client base, it doesn't make sense to make decisions primarily driven by data. In most cases, doing so will result in skewed tests. For example, you might decide that India is the ideal market for your product, because 5 of your 10 inbound leads are from India, as is your only paying customer. This is simply untrue due to the small amount of data you're working with. 

What you can do, however, is begin to collect data. In this post interviewing Steve Huffman (Reddit) and Emmett Shear (Twitch), this point is driven home. Huffman notes: 

There are a lot of corners you can cut when you’re building your MVP, but lack of data can haunt you. Think very carefully about what the minimum viable data is. You don’t even have to look at it, just log it somewhere, so you have it when you need it.

This observation has strong parallels to marketing. When you have the data (and budget) to make decisions about paid advertising and SEO, there will be a sense of regret if you don't have data behind how your early users came to your site, and what search terms have been hitting your site the most over your product's tenure. 

Beyond Lead Generation 

Having credible marketing data can stretch into making good decisions about your product in other areas as well. Using tools like Segment to connect marketing data with user data can be very telling about your user experience. Some basic applications could include: 

User onboarding: is there a noticeable pattern among your trial users that come from certain marketing channels? It's possible that a larger percentage of your users captured through organic search are dropping off due to misconceptions around what your product does. The solution might be to revisit the funnel of those users, and see how you can optimize your landing pages and messaging to get users that stick, and nurture those that won't. 

Identify pain points: as a marketer, it is incredibly intriguing and useful to see the pages that a visitor has seen before converting into a lead (give their email). What can be even more intriguing is the pages visited by your customers. Are there certain pages that are frequented significantly more by your highly engaged users compared to users that drop off, or vice-versa? Do certain assets (i.e. industry reports) increase user activity if downloaded by customers? 

Mode Analytics addresses user drop-off with their tutorials.

Mode Analytics addresses user drop-off with their tutorials.

Basic Marketing Data 

Even if it's clear that all types of companies should be collecting marketing data, where do you start? I divide it into a few different types below, with mediums you can use. 

Visitor Data: Use a free tool like Google Analytics to connect your site and start measuring your daily views, popular pages, and more. If you're feeling adventurous, you can set up a Goal and start tracking inbound conversions. 

Lead Data: Sales teams need to be meticulous with their efforts early on, to see what works and what doesn't. Use a free tool like Hubspot CRM to manage your outreach. They will get an idea of the industries, titles, and other categories leads are in, and which ones are successful. 

App Data: Most developers already have some function of storing user data, though programs like Keen IO make it a lot easier. If your developers already store their data in a warehouse like Redshift, you can use Mode Analytics to interact with it.

Conclusion 

This is only a general outline, and it will take you some time to decide on what stack works best for you. More than anything, it is crucial to decide early on that you will be collecting marketing data, and have it organize in some way. As long as you have a key (i.e. email) or other token that you can use to link your data together, it will be significantly easier to make data-driven decisions when the time comes. 

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The Basics of SEO (Part 2 of 2)

How to tweak your site to be optimized for SEO 

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I wrote an introductory post on SEO that gives you the raw basics on the idea behind SEO and how it works. Give that a read first! 

Before you go shedding thousands of dollars on optimizing your website for SEO, take a step back and re-evaluate your focus. I mentioned in my last post that (on average) search makes up 30% of your total traffic. While this is very impressive, there’s a belief that SEO will perform miracles for your site. That isn’t necessarily the case. 

In fact, without a strong foundation for your site, you’ll end up spending a lot of money on having an SEO agency build something that you could do yourself. In this post, I’ll dive into how you can think about SEO while building your site, and small tweaks that will make noticeable differences to your search engine traffic. 

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A Foundation for Organic Traffic   

When looking at SEO, it can be helpful to think about your site as a physical store. Someone passing in front of your store (homepage) may not have actual intent, compared to somebody that approaches a store rep (Contact Us page) or inspects a price tag. 

With that in mind, your website should be structured in a way that makes it easy for people who have intent to get what they want, and those who are unsure to find out more/be convinced. I’ve written about how to target people at different interest levels here. 

For a simple software company, this could mean having a visible “Contact Us” or “Free Demo” button on the homepage, while also displaying call-to-actions that quickly segment your visitors. A site that does this incredibly is Turnstyle. You can either “Try for Free” or “Learn More”, dividing visitors by intent immediately. 

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Optimize your Headings

I mentioned in my last post how to optimize your description in Search Engines like Google to get the best click-through for your site. The second challenge is keeping people on your site, and that starts with headings. 

There are three main types of headings: H1, H2, and H3. While a CMS platform like Wordpress will give you the ability to choose what type of heading your text is, they are easily identifiable by size/weight. H1 is the largest, followed by H2, then H3. 

Why does this matter? Imagine stumbling across a site through a Google Search. The first thing you’ll look for is the heading (probably the biggest one) to see if it’s relevant to your search. Hence, the rule of thumb is to have maximum (1) H1 and (1) H2 heading on your page. 

Your H1 heading should clearly connect to the purpose of the page. If your title is “10 Marketing Essentials”, your H1 heading/subtitle could be “What most small businesses miss”, and your H2 heading could be “Creating a Facebook Page”. The flow from title to content is smooth, and readers who are interested in that topic will be more likely to continue reading. 

The 🔑 Words

With site structure and headings out of the way, the final step is to optimize the actual content of your site for SEO. I mentioned in my last post about you don’t want multiple pages fighting against each other for the same keyword. This ties into how you should think about your actual site pages. 

If your site has a “Features” page, what keywords relate to your industry that you are trying to optimize for? A mattress company might look to target the words “improved sleep”, given that visitors who are looking for a mattress would favour that. 

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Likewise, mattress company Leesa.com has the words “better night’s sleep”, “cooler night’s sleep”, and “amazing sleep” all on their features page, with the first actually being included in a heading. This ensures that anyone who is looking for a mattress and stumbles across Leesa.com’s site through a search engine sees what they’re looking for right away. 

Not a Lone Wolf

I’ve mentioned before that SEO is not the miracle that will springboard your site into 10x visitor traffic. The reality is that SEO is simply a compliment to your existing efforts. Having more engaged visitors may not necessarily make an impact if you aren’t creating content that resonates with them, or placing call-to-actions (CTAs) that get them to complete your desired goal (i.e. signing up for a newsletter). 

Digital marketing is truly a cohesive game, and mastering only one part of the process can limit you as a versatile marketer. Pairing a mind for SEO with the ability to create relevant content can create a noticeable difference in how visitors interact with your site. I’ve written about how you can create content that sticks here. 

Conclusion

If you’re a growing business that seriously wants to improve their SEO, then it might be worthwhile to seek some professional help. However if you’re a small business or simply want to have your site’s search traffic scale with its popularity, then following these tips are surefire ways to improve your ranking and visitor engagement. 

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The Basics of SEO (Part 1 of 2)

Unpacking one of the most popular terms in marketing

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As a marketer, I can identify with always wanting to tackle the most exciting and impactful project for a company. So I can easily say that I would rather be developing the launch strategy for a new product feature than combing through a website to optimize it for SEO. 

With this being said, I know that SEO is a key skill to learn as a marketer. On average, search traffic makes up 30.5% of total traffic for small businesses. Therefore it’s key that a business make an effort to integrate the idea of SEO in their content strategy. 

What is SEO? 

I won’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, so here’s an excerpt from Moz.com on what it is: 

"Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results"

There are two factors here that are important to note: quantity and quality. The former is self-explanatory, and simply means driving more traffic to your site overall. The latter, however, is something to explore deeper. 

Visitors coming to your site via a search engine are very different from ones that are referred via, for example, paid ads. Search visitors often have a specific idea of what they’re looking for, unlike paid visitors who may simply be interested in the idea of your site. 

You will notice, with a site that is poorly optimized for SEO, that visitors coming through search might have a high bounce rate (leave on the first page), for one of two reasons: 

  1. The site’s description in the Search Engine was not coherent with what was posted on the page 
  2. The quality of the content on the site is not strong enough to captivate them to stay on the site

Let’s jump into the most basic and popular idea behind SEO to understand how to address these two problems. 

Optimizing for Keywords 

When you type an entry into a search engine like Google, an algorithm searches their database to find sites that align the most with your query. On a basic level, this means looking at factors like:

  • Number of keywords
  • Word count of the page
  • Number of credible links back to the site
  • Total site traffic

At first glance, the idea might be to flood every page on your site with keywords that you want to attract visitors from, in order to maximize the chance that your site is seen. The obvious issue is that Google’s algorithm will pick up on this and penalize you for it, but the more crucial point is the idea of page competition. 

If all of your pages optimize for the keyword “Fidget Spinners”, then all of your pages are competing against each other for the highest page rank. It also means that someone searching for “Fidget Spinners” could be clicking on a different page each time they search, which dilutes your page traffic and makes it harder to improve your site rank. 

This means that you need to think carefully about how your site is structured, and what each page is designed for. For a software company, this often means having certain pages that emphasize certain product features, while others may aim for larger keywords related to the industry. 

Search Engine Appearance 

Even with a strong page that is relevant to the user’s search, the next big challenge is actually getting the user to click on your listing. Wordpress, among other CMS platforms, allows you to edit how your page will show up in a search engine like Google. This includes changing the title, content, and relevant tags. 

The automatically populated description and title is often long and/or simply an excerpt from the page itself, which probably does a poor job of reflecting why someone should click on the link. Using the fidget spinners example, compare a few of the results below:

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The first result has a lengthy title, but the description is succinct and conveys to the user immediately what the page will entail. The second result has a more legible title, especially with the use of the ‘|’ character. One can only assume that gearbest.com has more site traffic than addictivefidgettoys.com, and hence gained a better ranking. 

Seeing Walmart fall below both of these results was surprising, but only reconfirms the strength of Google’s algorithm, and importance of SEO. Being a corporate giant with millions of products, Walmart definitely did not optimize this page for a specific keyword, however their site traffic and overall usability (seeing price and rating in the result) garnered them a top spot. 

The Long Game 

On average, SEO efforts can take 6 months or more before you start to see results. The reason being that Google doesn’t consistently crawl your site, and hence won’t pick up on your changes and improved credibility right away. 

I will go into more depth in Part II about how you can alter each of your pages to improve its SEO, and a few other basics about keywords optimization. 

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Content is like Cheese

Why your content should get better with age, not decay

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I have a lot of hobbies, and recently I’ve taken an interest in cheese. As odd as it might sound, the idea of food getting better with age is almost counterintuitive. In the right environment, a mediocre cheese will age to perfection, while in other conditions it might become moldy and undesirable.

Content creation is, in many ways, very similar to cheese. Fresh content is attractive, and can go viral in a short period of time. Older content can become stale, either by losing its relevance or by getting lost in the fray. Like cheese, however, handling older content correctly can enable it to make a huge impact on your marketing efforts including improving your SEO, time spent on site, and overall visitor experience.

The idea of considering both fresh and older content in your marketing efforts falls into the idea of marketing segments: acquisition, inbound, and evergreen.

Acquisition Marketing

Probably the most popular amongst the three, this type of marketing refers to pieces that aim to attract users to your site, simply put. The content is most likely easy to share, and hence has the ability to go viral on social platforms.

Example: “The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship”

Body: Dives into the lows of entrepreneurship including failure and burnout. Little focus on the product but drives a lot of traffic.

Inbound Marketing

There will be a portion of your visitors that visit your site organically, either through a search result or via another referring site. These visitors are typically more engaged as they have a specific idea of what they’re looking for in your content. The content is likely more in-depth, and geared towards those that aren’t already familiar with your product.

Example: “E-Commerce Blueprint: Starting an Online Store”

Body: Breaks down the steps to validating an e-commerce business, and how to do it on Shopify. The call-to-action is signing up for a free trial.

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Evergreen Marketing

After creating content for a while, you will have developed a dedicated following, either through consistent visitors or potentially through an email newsletter. These users are evidently familiar with your product and content, but their engagement will decrease over time. For a business, their customers or cold leads typically fall into this category. The content, therefore, is designed to re-engage users by bridging the gap between your product and their interests.

EXAMPLE: “How 2 Chainz Used Shopify to Make $2m in 30 Days”

Body: Highlights how 2 Chainz became successful on the platform, and touches on the functionality and use of the product. Could be sent to customer/user segments depending on their engagement.

Building a Content Strategy

Like a cheese platter, you need to understand how your content pieces fit together, and how that defines your content strategy. Simply attempting to write viral pieces will lead to a lack of cohesion in your content, and probably be reflected through a high bounce rate (users leaving your site on that page) along with a low time spent on site. As a business, it also makes it challenging to get users to convert to buying your product, as they all have low engagement.

Once you have written a few pieces of content, check your stats and see how each piece is performing, and what their focus is. I.e. if you are a food blogger, and your first few pieces are on restaurant reviews, it’s possible that a piece on Mexican food performs especially well. You could focus your next few pieces of content on more Mexican restaurants, then create a “Top 5” post that is easily sharable, and links back to your other pieces of content.

The “Top 5” post will get a high amount of traffic, and a number of users will follow the backlinks in your post to other pieces of content about Mexican food on your site. This increases their engagement, and increases the possibility of them reaching your conversion goal, i.e. signing up for a newsletter.

Good for Business

I’ve already gone over an example of how personal bloggers can incorporate this strategy, but let’s take a look at another use case, this being for businesses.

Start by reviewing the content you’ve already published, and categorize it based on how it relates to your product. I.e. a restaurant marketing software company might categorize its content into segments such as “Case Studies”, “Industry Information”, and “Product Features”.

Once you understand the basic focus of each of your pieces of content, try to further group them based on their role in your customer funnel. I.e. an industry report might be top of funnel content, meant to attract leads by giving them insights on the industry while collecting email addresses. Case studies on the other hand may be grouped as bottom of funnel content, meant to be used when leads are already in a conversion with a sales rep and need to be nurtured to speed up the sales cycle. I write more about email nurture campaigns in sales in this post.

The next step is very similar to that of a personal blogger, where you review the performance of these posts. If you haven’t already, you should set up goals in Google Analytics to see how well each of your posts convert. Looking at both how your content fits into your customer funnel and how well each of them is converting will give you direction on what to focus on creating. I’ve added a photo below of how content works in relation to a customer funnel for a typical business-to-business (B2B) Software as a Service (SaaS) company.

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For example, if you have a lot of case studies that convert poorly, it might be a good idea to syndicate them, add some additional information on the industry, and create an e-book on how companies can adapt to the changing dynamics of the industry to stay competitive. This may become an amazing source for new leads opposed to being part of nurture campaign, and isn’t hard to do since you already have the posts created.

Conclusion

Crafting a content strategy that values and incorporates both fresh and older content is a sure-fire way to increase user engagement. Though it may take some time to see the results of your efforts, investing the time now will ensure your site and product reflects a cohesive brand and reduce the volatility of your customer funnel.

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A Fear of Math

Moving from good to great in marketing 

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I’ve never had a great relation-ship with math (pun intended). From Grade 9 onwards, the increasing complexity of the subject and my inability to find practical applications for it led to a downhill spiral. It was my lowest mark every year, and I couldn’t wait to be done with it. 

In fact, in Grade 12, admissions officers from Western University came to visit our school and the first question I asked was whether I needed Advanced Functions to be admitted. The second they said no, I raced to the guidance counsellor’s office and dropped it, no hesitation. 

Granted, it did limit my options. The Ivey School of Business was the only business program in Canada that allowed me to apply with only one of the three available high school maths, this being data management. Aside from Ivey, all my other choices were arts programs. I loved business, but hated math, so it seemed like a decent trade-off.

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My experience with business at that point only reinforced my assumptions. Competitions like DECA mimicked university business programs, where most cases related to marketing were high-level. For example, a presentation on a case with the Golden Globes sounded more like “Here are new ideas for marketing campaigns” than “Here’s a new channel for advertising, and how we’re going to promote and track it”. 

To be fair, that would be a little much to ask from high school students so I understand the logic behind keeping the problems/solutions high-level... Although I wasn't as lenient when I judged the Regional competition 😂.

Playing Hooky 

It was only a matter of time before math crept back into my life. During my sales internship at Shopify Plus last summer, my manager wanted to know how to predict lead and deal creation so sales hackers knew how they were performing. 

The other interns didn’t seem phased, and proceeded to create an Excel model to answer the question. The results were immediately implemented, and brought value that I couldn’t emulate. While I found other ways to contribute to the team, a qualitative observation simply doesn’t carry the same weight unless it’s backed by data. 

Down the Rabbit Hole

When I returned to school, I took on a few marketing roles that only confirmed my assumption that math was a necessity. On a basic level, it could be comparing open and click rates on email campaigns, and on a more advanced level it could be monitoring Cost Per Lead (CPC) on a paid campaign to make the most of one's budget. 

To be fair, marketing doesn’t require the intense math that may be required by an engineer or actuary. However, you can’t be scared of numbers. Avoiding numbers simply limits your value as a marketer. 

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For a relatable and timely example, I’ll use Lebron James and basketball. You can do well being an amazing shooter or a playmaker, but unless you have the full package, you can’t be an all-star. Similarly with marketing, you can’t truly emerge as a great marketer unless you have a strong grasp of the various skillsets, which includes data/analytics. 

Into the Deep End 

Realizing I lacked data skills led me to apply for my current position as an intern on the business operations team within Shopify Plus. During my first week I started to learn SQL to pull data and ramp up my Excel skills. My work within the revenue operations pillar confronts the exact area I felt I fell short in, i.e. justifying marketing spend and analyzing the results of our efforts. 

Although daunting at first, now being a month in I’m feeling a lot more comfortable dealing with data. Furthermore, I found that being on the frontlines of data analysis has helped me to better think about problems. I’m faster at identifying the root causes to a question about campaign performance, and look for an answer in data before making assumptions. 

Next Steps

I‘m no pro at marketing, but I found that focussing on skill sets makes it a lot easier to improve my marketing ability as a whole. I’m still very green when it comes to SEO and paid advertising, but knowing that helps me realize what I need to learn and where the gaps in my marketing skills are. 

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Essential Email Newsletters

And my take on reading too much. 

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I often wonder if I’m reading too much. I’m subscribed to about 14 different email newsletters, which all fall into a handful of categories. 

Quick News

LAUNCH Ticker gives me a 2-minute overview of what’s happening in the tech scene, INSIDE Venture Capital gives me funding updates, and Mattermark Daily is a combo of the two. 

I find these updates to be helpful in daily life. The tech industry is constantly changing, and knowing what is/isn’t the next big thing makes for great conversion with my equally nerdy tech friends. 

I’d also highly recommend venture publications to anyone that is looking for a job/internship. Companies that recently raised funding are probably looking to scale, and would be open to hearing how you can add value. 

General Reading

My Medium Daily Digest and Pocket Hits are tailored based on what I subscribe to in each of those collections; categories like technology, startups, and culture to spice things up. 

I find that many of these articles aren’t exactly ‘required’ reading, but they instead replace what I’d imagine I’d be reading before going to bed. Articles on the journey of immigrants, finding one’s passion, and fitting into a new environment are all relatable to me and keep me thinking about life. 

Deep Dives

Newsletters like First Round Review, Groove HQ, and other practice-specific publications help me get a better grasp on skills like digital marketing through in-depth case studies and extensive reports. 

These are often incredible reads, but the trade-off is timing. First Round Review, for example, recently published a piece on how Zapier was able to scale its business while only having to raise a single funding round. There a lot of great caveats, but it’s definitely a solid 10–15 minute read. 

But am I reading too much? 

I like to think I’m pretty prepared through my diverse subscriptions, but I often wonder: am I reading too much? More specifically, I tend to wonder how I’m applying the information I absorb. For fear of simply skimming emails from my ‘Deep Dive’ category (which most subscriptions fall into), I archive them for future reading. It hasn’t worked out too well…

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I am a huge fan of Tomasz Tunguz and Avinash Kaushik, but performance pricing for SaaS companies and the limits of machine learning may not appear immediately applicable for a 2nd year university student.

But does that mean that I shouldn’t be reading it? Not at all; in fact there may be a time in the (near) future where I might find a piece on SaaS pricing very useful. However how do I determine if it’s worth reading now? 

My approach has been two-fold: 

#1: S-tested 

When looking at an article, I tend to quickly evaluate it based on three criteria: short, similar, and soon. 

  • Short: could I consume this piece of content within 5 minutes? 
  • Similar: is this piece relevant to my immediate interests? 
  • Soon: can I apply what I learn in the next week? 

If it passes all three criteria, then it is probably worth a read. Most newsletters from my ‘Quick News’ category can be consumed in 1–2 minutes, revolves around my interests, and is applicable to daily conversation and/or worthy of a tweet, so they generally pass. 

In contrast, many pieces from my ‘Deep Dives’ category are often archived since they are either (1) too long (2) very niche or (3) not applicable to my current situation. I make a point of revisiting my ‘Read Next’ folder every few weeks to see if anything jumps out, but generally I see the folder as more of a ‘Future Content’ grouping than ‘Read Next’. 

#2: Curated Content 

It took me a while to get a handle on what newsletters were relevant to me, as a student interested in tech and marketing, and I can imagine it would be the same for others. 

So I decided to start a bi-weekly collection of articles that pass the criteria and would be helpful to people like me. I’ll link the article, give a short summary, and state how it’s applicable. 

Think you'd be interested? Drop your email below and I'll add you to the list! 

Always be Nurturing

3 Examples of Bringing Marketing into Sales 

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“Only one thing counts in this life. Get them to sign on the line which is dotted!” 

This famous line from Glengarry Glen Ross stuck out in my head when I started my sales internship last summer. The goal of every call was to qualify the lead, and every email was an opportunity to move them further along the pipeline. Why waste your time with people that won’t buy? 

This leads to a misconception around the role of marketing in a startup. A marketing team is successful if they produce a high number of leads that are a good fit for the company and are, ideally, ready to buy. If the conversion rate of your leads is poor, then either marketing isn’t producing good leads, or sales isn’t able to close. The result is a sales funnel that looks like this:

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The challenge to this approach is that it neglects the idea of the customer journey. Not every lead that comes through your doors will be ready to buy, but they could be a good fit. 

The Startup Chasm 

In the B2B space, there is a norm for how startups progress in their team structure. After validating their product, the first hires (after engineers) are normally sales reps, whose newly recruited customers create a feedback loop with engineers on how to improve the product. 

The chasm that startups face is when to hire for marketing. Why create content if you don’t have the traffic to see it? If your sales is primarily outbound, and based off cold email and lead lists, there really isn’t a need for an active blog or marketing collateral, right? 

Your team is pretty small and you don’t have the budget/time to hire for marketing. But you're not on HBO.

Your team is pretty small and you don’t have the budget/time to hire for marketing. But you're not on HBO.

Startups who make this mistake are being reactive, not proactive. Salesforce reports that only 2.5% of lead lists convert into opportunities. The reason is aforementioned; not all leads are ready to buy. Your sales reps could be wasting time trying to convince customers of your product’s value, instead of focusing on leads that are ready to buy. 

So... Always be Closing? 

Not exactly. Leads that aren’t ready to buy shouldn’t be discarded, since they might still be a good fit. They could fall into one of the following segments: 

  1. Bad Timing: they just entered into a contract with another provider, and won’t be ready for another year. 

  2. No value: they don’t understand the problem you’re solving, and subsequently don’t see the value of your product. 

  3. Analysis paralysis: there are too many solutions in the industry, and they think it’ll take a few weeks to discuss. 

This is the perfect time to implement an email nurture campaign. Each of these segments can be targeted with messaging that will increase their probability of converting to a deal when they talk to your sales team again. Let’s go over the different campaigns you can structure. 

Bad Timing Nurture

You might think that your sales rep should just set a reminder to follow up with that lead in a year. However that means that the follow-up requires a lot of catch-up. 

Hubspot states in one of their articles that leads that go through some form of email nurture have a 23% shorter sales cycle. Email nurture saves your rep from having to recap new product offerings, while your lead would have a better idea of their fit based on their changed needs from a year ago. 

Here’s a sample email campaign you can run to keep this lead engaged: 

badtiming_nurture.jpg

No Value Nurture 

If someone doesn’t see the value of your product, your sales rep is probably just wasting time trying to convince them, right? Exactly — but that someone else could be trying. 

It may take some time, but once that lead understands how your product works, and why they need it, they will be emailing your sales rep to buy, opposed to the other way around. 

There are a few stages this lead might move through before being ready to be sold to. I’ve listed them below, and how you can target them in your email campaign. 

novalue_nurture.jpg

Analysis Paralysis Nurture 

This type of lead is often a gray area for startups. If the lead isn’t comfortable making a decision, your sales rep could attempt to convince them over a slew of emails and meetings, but there’s a chance this may not work and will simply extend your sales cycle. 

The response to this challenge could be a shorter nurture that walks them through the unique qualities of your product and its use cases. Keep in mind that the call-to-action (CTA) at the end of each email is probably more abrupt than with the other campaigns, i.e. “schedule a meeting with me” opposed to “view this piece of content”. See an example below: 

analysisparalysis_nurture.jpg

A Well-oiled Funnel 

Having a funnel that nurtures leads when sales can’t close them will help to increase future conversions and build a database of leads that are constantly engaged. Eventually you will start to see the number of inbound leads increase WITHOUT spending money on paid ads or acquisition! 

I’ll be releasing a post shortly on how to create a referral campaign, so your leads that aren’t a good fit will refer you leads that are! Subscribe to my newsletter below and be the first to know. 

From Doctor to Marketer

Finding your path when it isn’t paved

Mom wanted one doctor, but instead she got two arts majors.

Mom wanted one doctor, but instead she got two arts majors.

In Grade 9, I had the pleasure of accompanying my mom to the hospital for “Take Your Kids to Work Day” where she worked as a nurse in the cardiology department. Being both a South-Asian parent and a medical professional, she was ecstatic to hear about my interest in medicine. My brother was pursuing an arts degree (and presumably law school) so I was destined for med school. 

That was, until I started high school math. My dismal mathematics career was countered by my extra-curriculars, where I excelled in DECA, a high school business competition, and student voice activities. My love for public speaking and interpersonal skills made business school a natural choice. 

Although I did not know it at the time, this was the first time I made a conscious career choice. I recognized a deficiency in one area, and a skill in another. This has, and continues to be, the driving force behind my professional aspirations.

deca_lads.jpg

Just Work at It 

I always faced criticism that I wasn’t bad at math or science, I simply didn’t work hard enough at it. While many people (myself included) fail due to mindset, reality also needs to set in. If there’s one thing you can take from this blog post, it’s this: 

1. Your academic and professional aspirations should always align with your goals. 

Sure I could have continued in math and science, and probably been a solid B student. The challenge there was that I wanted to be a doctor, and med school simply isn’t possible with Bs. 

Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his bestseller, Antifragile, notes how those who thrive off disruption are most successful. Pursuing med school with a B average is waiting for disruption (rejection), while building a new skillset in anticipation of a new pathway was thriving off it. 

Herd Mentality 

Coming to Western, I was dead set on the Ivey HBA program. Their recent employment report sheds some light on the composition of the program, with a whopping 52% of graduates ending up in either finance or consulting. I wasn’t especially interested in finance, so I gravitated towards consulting, which is complemented by the Ivey case-based learning method. 

I joined a number of clubs in first year, with Western’s Marketing Association being one of them. 

I joined a number of clubs in first year, with Western’s Marketing Association being one of them. 

As I progressed through my first year, I gave a lot more thought to my goals. Specifically, I started to question why I wanted to do consulting in the first place. My reasoning boiled down to: 

I don’t know what I want to do in business. Consulting gives you exposure to a number of industries and you learn a lot quickly. 

This is good reasoning, but it dodges the initial question: what are my goals? Consulting internships don’t start until 3rd year, and simply waiting for that didn’t make sense. The door would always be open — so my resolution became this: 

To dive deeper into my interests, and learn more about what interests me. 

A New Approach 

I began to read a lot more about technology and business; getting daily updates on the tech scene from LAUNCH Ticker and Mattermark, while gaining expert insight from Tomasz Tunguz and Mark Suster. I love learning how B2B companies scaled their sales and marketing, and how B2C companies adapted their features to fit new audiences. 

But that wasn’t enough. Even in technology and business, the pool is too vast. After all, which business student would turn down offer to work at Airbnb or Google? This brought me to my second conclusion in my career path: 

2. It’s not good enough to be a generalist. You need to do what you love, and be amazing at it. 

So naturally, I had to dig even deeper into not just what I was interested in, but what got me excited. If I pursued a career that I truly enjoyed and was not intrinsically disadvantaged in (like my doctor ambitions), then I could more easily learn and grow to become a master of it. 

I learned a ton by doing remote/contract marketing for Turnstyle, a tech startup in Toronto.

I learned a ton by doing remote/contract marketing for Turnstyle, a tech startup in Toronto.

This was marketing. Everything from content creation to paid advertisements, and email marketing to SEO was fascinating to me. I wasn’t particularly good at all of them, and some I had yet to experience, but the goal alone was enough to drive me. 

Like many other career paths, there were resources galore. I started with Neil Patel webinars and the Hubspot blog to better understand the field. I’ve bundled some of the most helpful pieces below. 

Eventually, towards the end of second year, I knew my path. I was en route to becoming a true marketer — so what’s next? 

The Road Ahead

This past week was my first as a business operations intern with Shopify. I expected to leverage my marketing and sales background to really propel the team, but instead was challenged to tackle a new skill: Data. 

Although I am immensely proud of my liberal arts education, my current team is split between engineers with MBAs and math grads with computer science experience. While I could have shied away from the challenge, I instead came to my third conclusion: 

3. Even the pros have weak spots. Work on owning yours. 

Marketing is data-driven, plain and simple. Your ad spend needs to be tracked, and your content created based on customer data. Even though math was scary, at this point I knew that to be a killer marketer, it was a skill I needed to acquire. 

This was HTML source code pasted into Atom. 

This was HTML source code pasted into Atom. 

I don’t need to be the best, but I need to be capable. A killer marketer is that much more powerful when they understand the other components of the business, and how their work fits into that bigger picture. 

I never had (and still don’t have) everything figured out, but I realized that I needed to constantly be questioning what I was doing, and why. I think wherever I am in my career, these three take-aways will apply and continue to point me to my true North. 

Subscribe to my email newsletter below for more marketing resources, job postings, and exclusive pieces :) 

How to Rock Your Internship

3 Tips to Getting the Most Out of Your Summer  

No one wore a suit at Shopify… Even a tie was questionable

No one wore a suit at Shopify… Even a tie was questionable

Two weeks into my summer internship with Shopify, I was feeling lost. After completing the laundry list of tasks my manager had assigned, everything I did felt “day-to-day”, with little purpose behind the projects. I wasn’t learning as much as I wanted to, and even worse, I felt like I was underperforming. 

With many smaller companies, I found this is often the case. Teams are small and move quickly, making it hard to find ways to integrate an intern into long-term projects without hurting overall productivity. I mentioned in my last post that this was the reason a lot of startups aren’t open to taking on interns. 

However, there are steps you can take to ensure you find your groove quickly at your new job, and make the most of the time you have available. 

1. Find work, don’t wait for it 

Coming into my role at Shopify, there were about 10 tasks that were laid out for the sales interns to accomplish. We worked quickly, so within about 3–4 weeks, we had finished all the tasks. Our manager didn’t have the time to create new projects, so most of our work following that was day-to-day and added less value than we wanted. 

I spoke with a few other friends at the company who had been there for a while, and they were not surprised. Shopify did this intentionally. 

There are companies where you get clear work everyday. Then there’s other companies where the problems are clear, but you need to find the solutions. Then there’s Shopify… You have to find the problem and the solution. 

You are able to do your best work when you don’t just know the problem, you fall in love with it. And that’s the approach that Shopify took — if you find the problem yourself, you’ll be dedicated to solving it. 

Squadify: The Shopify Waterloo intern team.

Squadify: The Shopify Waterloo intern team.

So what does this mean for interns? It means you need to dive deep into the company and the work you’re doing. I spent a lot of time digging through sales data and speaking with co-workers before I found key problems that I wanted to tackle. 

At Shopify (and most startups) it’s a meritocracy, so if you present a solid case to solving a problem, you can get the approval to tackle it. I spent the next few weeks working with another intern on a script that did automated lead scraping via Google and LinkedIn, saving each sales hacker around 10 hours per week. I found a problem I was passionate about and delivered a solution I was proud of, making my internship feel a lot more valuable. 

2. Combine what you know with what you don’t 

I came in with the assumption that internships were all about learning, and while that will happen, don’t expect to learn everything. You should have a firm grasp on what you can do, what you know you can do, and what you want to try. Let’s clear things up with an example: your boss wants you to create a whitepaper on the food & beverage industry in New York, and here are your potential responses. 

Category 1: Jobs you can do/have done

I definitely can! I made another whitepaper a few months ago on the taxi industry in New York, so this should be no problem. 

Category 2: Jobs you know how to do

I’ll give it a shot! I haven’t done it before, but I’ve read up on the components of whitepapers and have a good idea of how to approach it. 

Category 3: Jobs you want to try 

No idea what a whitepaper entails, but I’m happy to give it a shot! 

Jobs in #1 are easy to get since you have experience, but jobs in #2 are what you’re really looking for, as it’s where you really learn. At Shopify, I knew how sales pipelines worked, but I never built one. When the project came up, I knew enough to get the responsibility, but still learned from practicing new skills. 

HackDays: Shopify's internal hackathon, where you get to ship a project with a new team. 

HackDays: Shopify's internal hackathon, where you get to ship a project with a new team. 

It’s not that you should avoid jobs in #3, but it’s unlikely you will get them. If your manager wants to get something done and you have no experience or idea how to tackle it, they’re better off doing it themselves. However, if you see jobs in #3, the best thing you can do is practice them on your own time. 

At Shopify, I was curious about lead generation, and started to read up on it. Near the end of my internship, I was able to convince the growth team to involve me in one of their lead generation projects. Had I not read up on the topic area, I would have probably just slowed the team down. 

3. Explore anything that interests you 

During one of my interview rounds with Shopify, I had a challenging chat with one of the sales managers. He asked me why I wanted to work at Shopify, and I jumped into a response about loving sales, and how it both rewards hustle and yields tangible value for my work. His response changed the way I approach the internship. 

You can learn sales anytime in your life, and at any company. The value in this internship is getting the chance to work at a rocketship like Shopify, and the experiences you can have. 

He was right. Sales was great, but the opportunity to be part of the inner workings of an explosive company was even better. I learned a lot about various other departments, like customer success and engineering, and even found a better fit with business operations, where I’m interning this summer. 

I learned a minimal amount of Javascript last summer, but all of it was applicable! 

I learned a minimal amount of Javascript last summer, but all of it was applicable! 

I did this by exploring everything that interested me — if an engineering project sounded intriguing, I’d chat with them about it. Eventually by August I discovered a lead generation project with the Growth team, who worked at a different office, which really exposed my passion for marketing. 

At the end of the day, internships are a 4-mth opportunity to explore your interests, so pigeon-holing yourself in one department limits your experience. Be sure to talk to others and see what interests you, because you never know what you might find. 

Not sure where to start? I’m sharing a sample deck with my email newsletter that I’m presenting to Shopify to make the most of my summer internship. Subscribe below for access! 

How to Get a Summer Internship

3 Easy Steps to Finding a Summer Job 

No pressure, right? 

As my phone rang, butterflies ran through my stomach. I’d spent the last few weeks sending countless emails to startups, asking about the potential to intern for them and finally got a phone meeting. 

While I did a bit of prep work by looking over their website, I was banking on my personality and business knowledge to carry me through. After all, I did DECA in high school and felt pretty prepared for what they could throw at me 😂.

After a bit of small talk, the question finally came: 

“So what do you want to do for our company?” 

I immediately jumped into my spiel about my background in business, extra-curricular activities, and eagerness to learn. There was an awkward silence, followed by another question: 

“We don’t have time for interns. What exactly can you do?” 

Students generally have limited work experience, so it may seem impossible to answer a question like this. Through this process, I faced a few obstacles to getting an internship and learned how to overcome them. 

Problem 1: They aren’t looking for interns

Half of all available jobs are not posted online, and this is even higher for startups that don’t have dedicated recruiters. With a headcount of 10–30 people, many of which are developers, the thought of hiring an intern probably never comes to mind. So when you do suggest it in an email, most startups might see it as too much of a hassle to bother with. 

Solution 1: Make them think they need you

I skimmed the website for a phone interview, but that doesn’t make me stand out. Spending an hour researching the company and the industry can show you are genuinely interested in working there AND help you figure out how you can contribute. I recently sourced an internship for a startup, and one supplementary piece I received is below: 

She made her interests and value-add clear, and ended up getting the job!

Mikael Cho from Crew also wrote a great post on how you can stand out of the pile, with direct examples. 

Problem 2: I don’t have any work experience

Out of all my extra-curriculars, the majority had one of two outcomes: event-planning experience (i.e. conferences) or fundraising experience. With a startup, neither of these are particularly relevant to day-to-day operations or an intern. So you need to find ways to work past that. 

Solution 2: Get experience through your interests 

If you’re interested in email marketing, building a newsletter using Mailchimp for your interest in cars can be a start. If you’re interested in data, Tableau has a free student version that you can play around with. There is also a ton of literature out there on these practices, i.e. marketers like Sujan Patel and Om Malik

While you may not have experience, you can show passion. This immediately sets you apart from the crowd, and shows the hiring manager exactly what you want to learn. This makes it easy for them to see where you fit in, and where you can grow. 

Problem 3: I don’t know anyone at the company

I love my parents, but mechanics and nurses aren’t the best for giving hot referrals to tech companies. Having a referral at a company is very important, but it doesn’t have to be a long-standing or family relationship. At startups, the point of contact might be the CEO or VP Marketing, given the small team. 

Solution 3: Start reaching out to people 

LinkedIn is an incredible tool to finding people that work at the company you’re targeting. Simply searching “Marketing at Company X” will return a plethora of results, as seen below. 

linkedin_samplesearch.jpg

You can then use free tools like Hunter and Verify Email to get their email if it’s not listed, or reach out via other mediums like Twitter. 

Your Game Plan 

I want to make this as easy as possible, so here’s your 3-step game plan on how to get an internship. 

Step 1: Make a list of companies

Using tools like Crunchbase or directories like MaRS DD and Ryerson DMZ, you can find tons of local startups that you are interested in. Make a shortlist of ~ 50 that you find intriguing. 

Step 2: Find contacts 

Use the tools listed above to find people who work at the company and their emails/contact info. You can use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of who you’ve reached out to, and what meetings you have. I recently was introduced to a free tool called Huntr that helps you manage recruitment. 

Step 3: Do some research and see where you fit in 

After you’ve identified your interests, dig into the company and see where you might be able to add value. I found that making a slide deck or one-pager is very helpful, though you may want to wait until after you secure a meeting to do that. 

At the beginning of the school year, I started religiously using this method to find marketing opportunities. Although a lot of my cold emails didn’t get responses, I eventually got one. I then got introduced to the appropriate person; here’s the email chain: 

Names and other details whited out, though it’s proof the method works!

Names and other details whited out, though it’s proof the method works!

Once I learned what their needs were, I put together a deck on what I could bring to the team. By the end of September I had a part-time, paid job! 

Bonus Step: Sign up for my email newsletter

I’ll start by sending you my personal slide deck to give a template on showing your skills, experience, and interests. You’ll also be the first to know about new posts on career tips and industry interviews, along with a curated crop of job postings. 

NHL to the Valley

Why your career is a path, not a choice. 

Disclaimer: Patrick did not actually play in the NHL. 

Disclaimer: Patrick did not actually play in the NHL. 

This is part of my Valley interview series, featuring a diverse range of marketers. For some context, read this post to learn why I went to the Valley and then this post to see what I learned. 

My path into tech marketing has thus far been one of advanced planning and precise calculation. Like many students, I worry about getting a job I like, and so I put a lot of effort into learning skills and having experiences that make me an ideal candidate. Patrick Frost taught me that having a strong profile is more important than having a clear path.

Humble Beginnings 

Patrick studied history at Denison University, a small liberal arts college in Ohio, primarily to play varsity soccer. Knowing a full-time career would be quite time-consuming, Patrick prioritized two things he loved: travel and skiing. He spent 2 months travelling across the West Coast, eventually settling in San Francisco; a big city with access to mountains nearby. 

Patrick has always been passionate about sports, so naturally he jumped into the sports industry after graduation. He spent more than 10 years working for the San Jose Sharks in sales. Here, Patrick championed a number of areas including ticket programs, partnerships, and offline marketing. It was fun, but he was restless. 

I wanted a new challenge, and tech seemed like it. Being in the Valley, I’m always hearing the buzz and following the trends, but never as a direct contributor to it. 

Most people might assume here that Patrick made the jump directly into tech marketing, but this wasn’t exactly the case. Square was at a young age and didn’t have a sales team, which would have fit his skillset. His eventual role? Customer Support.

Patrick and I chatted in one of these alcoves. 

Patrick and I chatted in one of these alcoves. 

Hard Work Pays Off 

Albite not the most glamorous role at a tech company, Patrick was determined to work at Square and was happy to start at Customer Support to learn the product from the ground up. He worked hard to build rapport at Square, harvesting relationships within the company and keeping an eye out for new opportunities. A year into the job, that opportunity came.

Starting as a Channel Marketing Manager, Patrick used his existing knowledge to develop association partnerships for Square and run marketing events, all with the goal of user acquisition. Being in a new industry, he still faced a variety of challenges and had to learn quickly. 

Never Stop Learning

One area that Patrick emphasized was learning how to frame problems. In order to get approval for new campaigns, he needed to find the right data and present it in a way that proved to his team members that he deserved the resources. 

Now focused on Marketing & Partnerships for Square Canada, I asked Patrick what he was keen on learning next. He mentioned, coincidentally, that the position of product manager was the next thing on his plate. 

I have a good grasp of sales and marketing, but you need to really understand what other teams do in order to get the ball rolling. That means diving into areas that you aren’t necessarily comfortable in.
Quick action shot before leaving the premises.

Quick action shot before leaving the premises.

Plan for Growth, Not Careers 

What I learned from Patrick was not that you need to start in support to get to your desired role, but rather that you need to focus on optimizing for learning and not for future roles. Doing the latter might mean you’re looking for an opportunity when there isn’t one, but always being prepared puts you in a much more desirable boat. 

I personally plan on pursuing something called t-shaped learning. The idea is to have a good grasp of the various areas in your practice, and have a strong expertise in 1–2 areas. For me, that means understanding SEO, paid advertisements, and data management, while going deep on areas like email marketing and customer segmentation. 

Getting work experience from ground zero can be difficult; subscribe to my email newsletter and get an EXCLUSIVE piece on how you can start. 

Marketer or Engineer?

Turning a fear of numbers into a passion for numbers to succeed in growth marketing.

I sat on the sofa to the right, in case you were wondering. 

I sat on the sofa to the right, in case you were wondering. 

This is part of my Valley interview series, featuring a diverse range of marketers. For some context, read this post to learn why I went to the Valley and then this post to see what I learned. 

If he rattled off his skills, you wouldn’t guess that Axel Amar was a growth marketer. With a commanding knowledge of statistics, experience working with SQL and Python, and the ability to write code, he might sound more like an engineer than someone that went to business school. But for Axel, those are just some of the necessities of the role. 

An Odd Start

Axel started at Turo, a P2P car rental service, in early 2014 as a growth intern. For many business students in France, San Francisco might not seem like a popular destination, but Axel was not new to travel. He had already completed a data internship in Malaysia and was looking for a new challenge. Growth marketing may seem like an odd jump for most, however many skills were transferable. 

For startups like Turo, everything you do needs to be backed by data. Whether it’s an ad campaign, an incentive program, or even a small tweak to the signup process, it needed to be quantifiable. Being comfortable with numbers, Axel had little trouble building a case for his work.

Turo has since grown to more than 150 employees with $80m+ in funding

Turo has since grown to more than 150 employees with $80m+ in funding

From Intern to Manager 

After completing his final year of school, Axel returned to Turo full-time in July 2015. Despite having lots of good ideas, the team didn’t have the resources to implement them. Developing marketing campaigns and analysis are not always the top priority for engineers and data scientists. So Axel did what any marketer would do; he learned how to do both.

Having a solid base in statistics meant picking up SQL and bits of Python for practical use wasn’t that challenging, and an existing background in programming allowed him to champion the project himself. Just a year later, Axel was promoted to Growth Manager and a lot more responsibility. 

Not an Anomaly 

While Axel’s story does sound extraordinary, he assures me it isn’t the case. 

Being able to understand and present basics statistics is key to be a successful marketer. Some business degrees have a lot of mathematics and statistics classes, especially in Europe. On our Growth team, David studied both business and engineering and this versatility helps him a lot in his day-to-day work

Even with a well-rounded background, Axel is still trying to learn more. He mentioned that being able to present well and visualize data is a key skill in growth marketing. 

Makes sense? Let’s give it a shot. 

Say we wanted to test an idea on the Turo web page below. We’ll break down the process and list the data we need to back it.

turo website.png

Hypothesis: By changing the copy from “Rent a car Anywhere” to “Make Your Own Schedule” and the button from “Find a car now” to “Explore the City”, conversion to renting a car will increase. 

Reasoning: People use Turo because public transportation is hard to plan, and they want to see the city on their own schedule. 

Data Needed: Percentage of people that use Turo (1) outside their home city (2) for more than one day (assume vacation), top frequented cities for Turo, walkability of city, reliability of public transportation in city 

Data to Track: Frequency of multi-day rentals in target cities, drop-off rate on web page compared to old page

This is a simplified example, but the case is clearly outlined and is a lot easier to pitch if backed by data. Even if the campaign fails, it was not a ‘random test’ but rather a calculated attempt at increasing conversions. 

Learn more about marketing analytics by subscribing to my newsletter below! 

Silicon Valley 101

My biggest take-aways and realizations from my trip to the Bay Area. 

Building a $19B company was a lot easier than I imagined. 

Building a $19B company was a lot easier than I imagined. 

It was 5am on the Wednesday of reading break, and my blaring alarm seemed further than ever. I looked over at my roommate (which wasn’t hard given the tiny bed we were sharing) and we were both thinking the same thing. While our friends were boozing in Mexico, we had the bright idea of ‘discovering the Valley’. There had to be a reason.

In my last post, I mentioned I wanted to go to San Francisco to better understand the work/life culture there and what it took to break into product marketing. Throughout the week, I absorbed countless pieces of advice, insights, and general observations about life in the Valley. Taken with a grain of salt, here are the main things I learned.

1. It's not the company, it's what you do

Walking down Market Street, I saw the offices of Uber, Square, Twitter, and countless other dynamic tech companies. I imagined how incredible it would be to work for any of these companies, regardless of the position. 45 minutes later, after my meeting in that same building, I realized I was a little naive.

Not pictured: the security guard wondering if he should ask me for ID. 

Not pictured: the security guard wondering if he should ask me for ID. 

Airbnb received over 50,000 applications for just 300 jobs in 2015. It’s no question that Airbnb is a competitive place to work, but once you get there, it’s a different story. What you accomplish is far more important than role description. Marketing means nothing if there aren’t any conversions, as does sales if you aren’t hitting quota.

Engineers breed products, marketers breeds leads, and sales reps breeds deals (revenue). I found there is an emphasis of cohesiveness in the Valley; failing to know how you contribute to the bigger picture makes your job obsolete. 

Takeaway: I learned that I need to start focusing more on what the results of the campaigns I run were, instead of what I did to create them. “Increased email conversions by 79%” is a lot more impactful than “Created email campaigns”. 

2. There is no 'right' way to build your career 

I came into my trip expecting to find the perfect path to breaking into product marketing. After a week, my ‘perfect path’ included ad agency work, group sales for an NHL team, and management consulting. It also included having technical skills in statistics and data science, an education from a top tier school, and a plethora of soft skills that a seasoned CEO wouldn’t have, let alone a new graduate.

Takeaway: I learned there is NOT one right way to build your career. People gravitate to different jobs based on interest and personal fit, and the best thing I could do is optimize for learning. I needed to constantly challenge myself with the roles I took on, and always look where to improve.

Two liberal arts majors, but only one runs a billion dollar company. 

Two liberal arts majors, but only one runs a billion dollar company. 

3. You need to be the best  

I’ve been in group projects where one person isn’t pulling their weight, but the team always manages to make up for it. Engineers in the Valley make upwards of $130,000 USD, which means for tech companies, they literally can’t afford to hire and retain people that don’t perform. Initially this was intimidating, but it also yielded a new realization.

Being in the Valley means you are surrounded by high caliber people. Colleagues that willingly work from 9am to 9pm, and manage their side hustles on the weekend. Old mantras like “leave after your boss does” are replaced by a sense of drive and purpose that your entire environment emanates. If you can keep up.

Takeaway: I learned that there isn’t room for mediocrity in the Valley. I found an area that interested me, now I needed to start honing the skills I had and start developing the skills I didn’t.

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