Building a marketing team is hard—especially when you’re in the early growth stages of your business.
In the beginning, you’re still identifying which marketing activities work while you’re building a team at the same time. But there a few common mistakes you can avoid with your team that we’re going to discuss today.
We’re joined by Jake Stainer, the former Head of Growth at Typeform and current Head of Digital Growth for TravelPerk. In this episode, Jake shares the biggest lessons he learned about growing a marketing team during his time at Typeform.
Listen to this Episode:
- The biggest mistake you can make while building a team
- How to handle massive change (and why you should take it slow)
- Why it’s important to hire for generalist roles vs. specialists
- The power of social proof on your landing pages for conversions
- What marketing principle Jake follows to ensure a company’s success
- How to identify a metric to go after so you can move the needle
- The one key metric where the conversion rate to revenue is stable
- When to draw the line and focus on a different marketing initiative
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- How to Build a Growth Marketing Team (The Non-Sleazy Way)
- Jake on Linkedin
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour! And welcome to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com, the no-fluff actionable marketing podcast for marketers, funders, and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.
In today’s episode, you will learn how to get customers from scratch, using a combination of SEO, paid, and conversion rate optimization.
My guest today is the former Head of Growth at Typeform, and is now the Head of Digital Growth for TravelPerk. And you’ve probably have heard of Typeform; you know it’s the survey company based in Barcelona.
TravelPerk is something, a company that is helping you to book travels, as a company, for your employees. I hope I’m not saying a lie there. Jake, you’ll tell me if I did.
So, my guest knows a things or two about getting more customers. You helped Typeform to scale from 0 to 60,000 product sign-ups, and 0 to 11 people in his team. And today we are really gonna talk about what he learned through his experience at Typeform.
He stayed there for four years, and the mistakes he made, the lessons he learned, so that you listening to this podcast can avoid making the same and learn from it. So, Jake Stainer, welcome aboard.
Jake: Welcome, hello. Thanks for having me on your podcast.
Louis: Yeah. Well, you emailed me. So there you go.
Jake: That is very true, that is very true.
Louis: You hear all of the famous growth stories about company reaching amazing numbers. And they’re like, “Yeah, we skyrocketed from 0 to like 60,000,000 in recurring revenue and everything was so beautiful.”
There’s a lot of survivorship bias in this type of environment. You tend to really focus on the good things and forget about the bad things.
So together, I want to challenge you to think more about your time at Typeform as what you’ve learned, the mistake you’ve made, the things that went well, and how you would do things differently. How does that sound?
Jake: Yeah, that sounds great. Sounds good.
Louis: Why don’t you give us an overview of your journey at Typeform from start to finish? Without spending a lot of time on the details, but more as a full kind of story, the last four years.
Jake: I started at Typeform back in June 2015. Number 29, so the team was quite small. To give some context, there’s now like 200 people working at Typeform. I joined back then as a performance marketer; and my job was to validate paid search.
Because back then Typeform’s growth had all came from its viral loop. So when you make a Typeform and when you share it you have the power buy button, and that creates the virality rate. And Typeform managed to grow from 0 to 10 million just from this viral loop.
I came in to see if I could try and grow more linear channels, such as paid, SEO, etc. And in the beginning I was doing build everything, as you do, because I was one of the first people in the marketing team.
Whether it was like answering emails, partnerships, coupon, fraud kind of things. Because we had this referral scheme right. Even data requests like, “How many questions does a Typeform have on average?” So, loads of different things.
Then I started to really focus on different channels. I managed to scale paid search to an extent, which enabled me to make a full time hire, to take paid search and paid marketing in general to the next level.
And then I then also grew SEO, because what happens with Typeform is we’ve got so many different use cases. It’s not just like forms. We’ve got surveys, quizzes, etc. Then you’ve got sub-use cases like job application form, contact form.
We found the easiest way to grow Typeform was through its use cases, both paying for it in paid search and also ranking for it organically. So, then we grew these channels to quite a large extent.
One thing I tried, which failed, was having decentralized conversion rate optimization, in terms of landing page optimization, so all of the channel managers were able to A/B test landing pages themselves.
But what happened is… it didn’t really actually happen at all. They spent a lot of time in the actual channel, so to speak.
The SEO strategists spent a lot of time trying to optimize for keywords, content plans, models etc. And in paid marketing we spent a lot of time doing Google Ads, but we didn’t really find enough of the time to re-focus on the landing page optimization.
Because of that I decided to centralize the conversion rate optimization side, stuff like landing pages, etc. And we had a full time CRO strategist to take on this, to centralize it in one place, and we now centralize all of it in air table across the company.
All of the insights are in one place and shared, so that we can learn from what other departments are doing. Because at Typeform, the product growth team was split from the marketing kind of growth team.
Now we’ve been working a lot closer together and having this one central insights hub. It’s super important to draw on different insights and ideas to really grow your channels a lot faster, because you can take those insights.
The team is 10 people now and it’s cross-functional. I decided to implement Scrum — two week sprints into the team — and we have designers who copyright those all within the team, so we can move a lot faster.
Because historically it was an agency model. Where we would make requests, but then we would prioritize the requests and they would prioritize their requests. So double prioritization.
In the end, we moved a lot slower, because we had to re-explain the same thing we’d already explained before. So having those embedded resources, it worked wonders. That was one of the big things I learned at Typeform, and this is kind of where we are now.
Louis: Thanks for painting this picture. So 10 people in the team with you, so 11. As you said, when you joined, Typeform was already a 10,000,000 AR. Is that what you said?
Jake: When I joined it was 1,000,000 AR. But a lot of the things I was doing was like small tests and we were doing a lot of optimization within the products.
We were looking at heat maps, click maps, etc, trying to optimize the actual product growth side, like more the funnel. Because we were trying to see how could be improve the K factor, so like the viral multiplier at Typeform. And a lot of other stuff that you encounter when you first join a smaller startup.
Louis: Let me stop you there. The K factor was meaning the number of people that you recommend, right? It’s like how many people you recommend.
Jake: Yeah, so for every sign up how many more people do you get? If one person refers one other person, then your K factor is 1, cause one person refers one person.
And if you can get a K factor of more than 1, then your product’s truly viral because you can create that exponential growth rate.
Louis: That’s like the dream, right? The dream of all the people listening. If you have a 1.01 it means that if you multiply that with one another, it’s gonna start to grow exponentially, which is the actual definition of it.
I mean, the curve is going to really start to have an exponential shape to it. Thanks for talking me through all of that.
Now if you had to select, in retrospect, the biggest mistake you’ve made. The things like the biggest failure, the things that you really learned the hard way that you felt, “Okay the next time I join another company I would do that differently.” What are those? Starting maybe with the biggest one.
Jake: Okay, so I guess I’ll give you guys the biggest one, which is in just like my team wide, it’s a bigger one. I think it’s when you hire a lot of people, you tend to like silo your teams quite a lot.
So we try to paint the perfect picture of what each team could do, and within two months we silo-ed the teams in marketing. We all focused on a metric. One team was focused more on the top of the funnel, brand awareness, PR, etc.
Another team more on content marketing, another team more on direct response, but because we silo-ed the teams then we had finite resources. It made it a lot harder to get the resources you needed to do the different initiatives.
Then, basically, it took us a whole year to get the teams back working together. From a one month decision, a whole year to get back together working again, and it was quite painful to be so silo-ed.
Because, of course, without resources everyone’s trying to solve the problem but in their own way. And that causes a lot of problems because it’s lack of focus, we have lack of resources.
I guess whenever you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have enough resources for something, a lot of the time it’s because you lack focus. And if you have less things you’re doing, and you’re working together as like a more holistic team, you’re likely to get bigger successes. So that’s one of the biggest.
Louis: Let me dive into this. Thanks for sharing that, by the way. I appreciate it.
So to rephrase it, to make sure I understand, you basically built a team quite fast and you compartmentalized the team in term of expertise. One of them would be, not expertise, but also objective.
One of the team will be top of the funnel, so bringing people so that they are aware of Typeform. Another one would be direct response, which would be AdWords and whatnot, or like … So you have teams that are like specializing in each area. Correct?
Jake: Yeah, it’s like the awareness funnel. If people like sloosh the well, they like form maker that’s more like the direct response side. Then more like they’re problem-aware, like how to grow my business or this kind of thing was like, high on top of the awareness funnel, so it’s how we decided to split it.
Louis: Let’s dive into why this is a terrible idea. Because even when you said you have silos, lack of focus and all of that… to me from an outside perspective, doesn’t sound like a massive deal.
But it’s clear that it’s quite painful in your mind. I can see it in your eyes that there were a lot of consequences to this decision. So, in this year where you had to reverse back to that. Can you explain in more detail then the consequences of this. What issues did it actually bring up on a day to day?
Jake: A lot of different … there’s like a lot of overlap, in terms of what we wanted to achieve. Every team wanted to do paid advertising to try and promote their content or try and reach their cause, and first of all we didn’t have three paid marketers to distribute between the three teams.
Typeform, back then, was say 150 people. We couldn’t hire three paid marketers for that, so in the end, we had paid marketers for that.
We have paid marketing that we direct and we’re using an agency for the other teams. And then, if things get more complicated; the more different things you add on, the more complex it gets.
Like managing an agency, managing in-house, and then trying to sync it up. Then you increase the number of meetings you have.
Like, we just had another meeting with the agency, and you have agency fees you have to calculate in your cut costs and everything you add on just increases the complexity a lot.
And then communication too. How do you sync up what everyone’s doing? How do you make sure everyone’s aligned and they’re not making the same content or initiative? Because everyone can interpret things in different ways?
It’s where do lines blur — and where don’t they blur? So, that alignment was difficult as well. Also, the naming of the teams. One team was called Awareness, one team was called Acquisition. The direct response team, and then people identify themselves with the name brand, so Awareness and Acquisition.
But then when we were sending briefs to this creative team, because we do have embedded resources, which are like the internal creative teams work on cross channel creative campaigns What do they interpret the word “acquisition” and the word “awareness”? Because after all, your every team is creating awareness, right?
The Acquisition team creates awareness for Typeform’s brand and so does this Awareness team. The Awareness team is acquiring customers, but from a longer convergence of the funnel stage as well. That creates confusion as well. Then we build a Product Growth team around the metrics funnel.
So, the AARR. Our last funnel, and one of their teams was called Product Acquisition team as well, so then … The more you silo things and the more things you add on, the more complicated it gets; and then the more time we spent in alignment meetings, and then we had OQR try and join OKR.
Louis: Sorry, just to define a few thing. You said the ARR framework which stands for Awareness … what?
Jake: Acquisition Activation Revenue Referral.
Louis: And then you said OKR, which stands for … Objective and Key Results, right?
Louis: So, main objective and then you have the keyword you have to attach to it. So, let’s say your main objective is to increase sales by 10%, then you have keywords that are related to that, which might be to bring 200 new signups/
So, what is it such a big deal that you had misalignment issues? Or you had to stay in alignment meetings? Did it prevent the team to do their job, basically?
Was there a lot of overlaps of teams who were doing the same thing, ultimately, and so waste of time? What was the biggest consequence of this?
Jake: I think one thing is, you waste a lot of time in meetings. Because we weren’t just having these alignment meetings, were also running the Scrum ceremonies. So, the spring planning, the refinement, the stand ups, etc.
But then people have meetings between themselves to work on projects, and then suddenly, half your week is just meetings, right?
I think the main thing is more using resources. In one team you could have PR, where other teams don’t have that resource.
One team has paid marketing, the other teams don’t. One team has SEO, the other teams don’t. We try and swallow ourselves so early on, it’s impossible because we just don’t have the resources to do it properly.
Because we all wanted to try and be cross-functional; but then it never really worked and then in the Product Growth team. We had engineering teams, but then in these growth marketing teams we didn’t have any engineers; but then if you’re working on SEO, for example, you need these engineering resources too.
Because the growth acquisition team for the product side was working optimizing, so we’re all trying to do so many different things. In the end, we don’t really have a big impact.
But since then, we’ve learned a lot. Now we have a cross-functional SEO team with engineers, designers, there’s scientists; everyone in that one team with that one goal; and it’s working much, much better.
Louis: Okay. First, thanks so much for being so transparent with the lesson you learned and the mistake you made. So, the biggest mistake that you would say that you made was the fact that you didn’t organize the team. The team did not organize around one co-objective, they were all organized in term of their own little ways and their own little expertise. How did you turn things around?
What did you do to switch things around? Like this one month’s decision that turned into a one year struggle to go back to something else?
Jake: I guess everyone hates change. No one likes to have these big changes in the team, because if the company keeps changing the team structures or what people do, where they live, etc.
It’s a big piece of havoc, right? I was working with my colleague and we said we’ve got a work closer together. Let’s take baby steps to get that. We don’t wanna do some big change overnight because we don’t wanna have this huge change.
We start to make baby steps to start working together, so we even have separate team drives on google drive and then people can’t even access the documents. It was crazy.
What we did is that we started to consolidate the teams and we looked to find the similarities, right? So, the two teams looking at more the top of the funnel, they start to work a lot closer together because they realize that one team had more people writing content, etc.
And the other team was more strategic. So, we had product marketers in that team, so they merged together to create one team. Then we had two teams.
Then we had from two teams now we came into one team. So, it’s kinda like we didn’t just do the whole thing overnight. It was a process where every month, we made a change and then we slowly got back to where we were before.
Because when we made the change, it was quite a drastic change. If I could go back in time I would be yelling, “Don’t do it, stop. You don’t know what you’re gonna get yourselves into.”
Louis: At the time people will be listen to this recording, you will have left Typeform. How is it organized now and how do you advise companies to organize themselves when they are this stage?
Jake: That’s a very good question, I guess when you’re a small marketing group team. Let’s say you’re 10 people, then you’re gonna work together anyway. I guess the main thing happens when you try and scale. So I think the most important thing is to align the whole team over a key metric, or a few metrics which all the teams go after.
For example, at Typeform. When I was there, we were looking into, “What is our leading indicator of revenue?” So the whole team could go after that metric. I would say, “Try find that common metric to align everyone through that common goal to begin with”
Also, I would try and do less things. But do them a lot better, right? Because I guess in the digital world, or in general, there’s so many different things that you can do. Like, the shiny objects happen all the time. You read an online article or you listen to a podcast like this one and you might have new idea that you wanna do straightaway.
I would say, the key to being successful is to do fewer things, but do them much much better. Keep a backlog of all your ideas and different things you wanna do. And then try and plan these big inflection steps in what you want to achieve.
Instead of trying to have SEO, paid search, Bing, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter all up and running. Instead, of taking this more extensive approach where you can have like mediocre in all the channels, just choose one or two channels max and be really good at them.
Because at the end of the day, the resources are finite. You don’t have all of these copywriters to make all of these ads, all of these designers, all of these different formats. How are you gonna aggregate all of the data from all the channels do the analysis?
It’s just really complicated. Find one or two channels that work, or initiatives,and really work and stir them. Really go deep on them. I think that would be my best advice and my biggest learning.
Louis: I guess it works better once you have a key objective. Let’s say, increase monthly recurring revenue by 50%. And then the marketing team, one of the key results they need to achieve is, increase conversion rate by 20%. Everyone in the team works towards that, right? It’s easier to select the things that you should double down on, and it’s easier to let go of the things that are not.
Jake: Yeah, exactly. It’s not always as simple as having one metric, so sometimes you may wanna focus more on retention or acquisition. You can even theme a quarter, a year, or half a year on one specific metric.
And then everyone works towards that goal. You can always switch to a slightly different metric at a different time. I guess that’s the concept of the OKRs. The OKRs is where you wanna create that focus for the team to get that big inflection.
And a change or a result. At the same time, you always have your ongoing things, which usually is called “business as usual” that you’re always doing.
Then these OKRs are for having that big focus in a quarterly or half a year. To create that big depth in your strategy and really go all in, and make it a big success.
Louis: Thanks for sharing these first big mistakes. So, you’re saying that this is the biggest one by far, right?
Jake: Yeah, definitely.
Louis: The biggest lesson, not necessarily. I don’t wanna frame it in a negative manner; let’s not say that you fucked up all the way. Everyone in this type of situation would have done similar mistakes or even worse; and I think you did pretty well for yourself, so kudos on that.
I don’t wanna frame it in a negative way, more in term of what you learned and what you would do differently. Which you did, thanks for that. If you had to say the second one, the second biggest mistake, the biggest thing that you’ve done or decision made that you would do differently next time. What would it be?
Jake: I think another one was, when hiring people, we tried to be too specific on what their job role would be. Instead of being more generalist. I guess you always jump to a conclusion. So we were trying to find someone who, for example, could manage the US market for paid.
Which is super granular thing to do. When I left, in the team, we had two people focusing on SEM. So Google ads and Bing. And then one person focuses on paid social. In hindsight, instead of focusing on very specific areas of expertise, we should have had more generalists.
For example, paid marketer, performance marketer. Who could have been a bit more agile and done different things rather than focused on one specific job or function. If that makes sense.
Louis: It does. What are the problems when it comes to that? Why is it an issue when you look for a specialist? Is it a struggle to find go candidates to fill the role or something else?
Jake: I think the main thing is that a good business changes a lot. So, you might hire someone, but then wanna focus on something different. I think when you’re trying to still figure out what challenge you really wanna invest in and which are gonna scale for your businesss, I think it’s more important to hire the generalists roles. Because you can be a bit more flexible, if that makes sense.
For example, when I left for Paid Social, we were focusing all of our attention on retargeting. And it was 10% of the total ad spend. We had one person on 10% of ad spend and two people on 90%, it doesn’t make any sense.
When you wanna pivot and change what you’re working on, I think it’s much better to hire someone more generalist and T-shaped, rather than hiring specific people.
Because a lot of people aspire to be a lot bigger than you actually are by trying to segment things and put them in groupings, rather than being more generalist.
And it comes back to the same learning as before with siloing. Maybe you sponsor like a beer company, or you look up to them trying to put things into groupings or departments. In reality, you want to be more free and flexible to change.
Louis: I concur in what you say. What tends to happen if you try to hire a specialist, is that you focus a bit too much on their specialization. And the skills you need. And forget a bit about culture, the passion and the personality and the match they have with the company, right? You end up with someone who might be extremely good at what they do, very technical specialist, but may not be a 100% for the company.
If you hire a generalist, someone who doesn’t necessarily have 10 years of experience in a field, but has the passion and the personality to learn new stuff and fight. It seems like the second type works better; because they are willing to be agile and move around.
Jake: Yeah, that makes sense. I guess it wasn’t the case in Typeform. We had people, they could do other skills. So, when we hired some from paid social before we had experience in paid search and vice versa. I guess when we chose people, we made sure they were T-shaped; where then people come in with the belief they’re gonna work on a certain thing.
But then you wanna pivot and you wanna change or something else. And also with alignment too. We have two different people focusing on one thing, so on another thing, you wanna align the different channels.
So, we had different retargeting ads. We had some copy on Facebook and different copy on YouTube. Siloing just creates more complexity. I guess “keep it simple” is my biggest takeaway and piece of advice.
Louis: Is there any other problems or consequences of hiring for to specialize that you can think of?
Jake: I guess the only other thing is, you might pivot and try and find another role for them in the company. But then you also specialize it. What happens is one person doesn’t know really what their role is, and they keep changing, or they feel like their role keeps changing.
If you were to give them more of a generalist title, maybe even just “awesome marketer”. At least, in that sense, they know and they understand that they’re gonna be doing different things and that’s what excites them.
And we don’t have this feeling of “my job keeps changing” or I keep having to pivot and do different things.
They don’t feel like they’re in limbo. They actually feel and know it’s part of their job and they enjoy doing different things. I think that’s kind of a benefit for the person as well.
Louis: Nice. Let’s go through the third mistake that you feel people could learn from that definitely you will remember and not do again. So, what is the third biggest one?
Jake: I don’t know if it’s the biggest, but I’ll give you another mistake learning. It was in Typeform’s rebranding.
It went from lots of different colors to a logo with a circle that moves in it, and all of these hairs. We even had comments from users saying, “Hey, there’s a hair on my screen.” But it’s just the new brand, right? Because it’s the hair, silly.
We had some of those comments. That wasn’t a mistake, by the way. The mistake came when we had to rebrand our landing pages. In the end, we decided to use Unbounce for all of the paid landing pages because it was a lot faster to iterate on without developer resources; the designers could make it super fast. But we remade them in the new brand.
But the biggest mistake was, when we remade them, we didn’t have the exact same. Because what we wanted to do in the beginning was test the new brand style but with exactly the same content.
In the process of doing it, we actually removed two of the three tested mirrors on the page, and when we ran it through an A/B test, we actually had a decrease in conversion rate from click to signup. Then we had to recreate the page with the actual social proofs.
So, we had a big learning on the power that social proof has on the landing page and how it impacts the conversion rate.
Louis: To go back to the rebranding and the positioning of Typeform, what was the trigger behind it? What was the core reason why you decided to rebrand?
Jake: Okay, so the core reason was, there was no kind of system behind the brand in the beginning. The founder made the brand and then he kept adding different things to it. From different designers. There was no system, there was no guidelines.
Everyone had a different feeling of what Typeform meant to them, but no one aligned on under what does Typeform really mean?
So, we had this big rebranding process which took, I think half a year or something. Where a couple of people in the company went really deep into, “What does Typeform mean? What does it stand for?”
From that, they created the brand from the value proposition which Typeform found. And then they created the design from that. So, that was kind of like the trigger.
It aligned the brand so it’s consistent and so that internally, everyone’s aligned to what it actually means. What Typeform’s brand means and how can we communicate that brand as well. And then a big rebranding process, and all the different web properties and products.
Louis: Did you see any business consequences to not having a brand that is super unified?
Jake: That’s super hard to measure, I guess, to have a clunky brand is super hard to measure that. We didn’t do any specific tests to measure that. The only data mark I can give you is that when we did actually do those three testimonials on the page to rebrand that landing page, we did have an increase in signups by around 7%.
So, we did increase signups by just having the new brand on there. Which was surprising because we thought it would be insignificant. Just changing the design; but it actually impacted the conversion rate. We had a positive increase then.
Louis: But the main objective was really to unify everything. To have a system in place that everyone inside and the other side would understand. The bonus was it actually increase conversion a bit.
Jake: Exactly, that too. That was the main aim around it. I think even now they’re trying to align the design systems because we still had one design system for the product, have one for what we called the brand, which was more the web properties.
Then we need to find that middle ground so that they can both speak to each other. So, when you use the products, you feel like you’re still using the same brand as the web signing out et cetera. They’re still working on that now.
Louis: Right. Makes sense. Thanks for sharing those three mistake and lesson learned. I’m curious now, if you had to do it again. Let’s say you’re joining a team or let’s say you’re joining as the first head of rows, or similar and you don’t necessarily have a team with you.
I know it’s very much dependent on the type of companies we are talking about, and the stages and stuff, but there may be some first principles and things that will never change that you can apply.
So, you are actually starting a new role. But let’s take a fictional example. If you had to start something new, joining as the Head of Marketing or Head of Growth, what would you put in place for sure? What principles would you apply in your marketing to imply that you were successful?
Jake: Okay. Is the company completely from scratch?
No, not necessarily, I don’t think it would be fair. But I think they have product market fit, so the product and there is some sales going on. Maybe at $1-2 million in recurring revenue. It’s quite early stage, but they are looking to scale.
What type of principles, or marketing principle would you bring with you to make sure that the company is successful? What would you do?
Jake: Okay, I’d put a rule in and say “don’t silo teams, ever.” No silo of teams, do not do that. Because you can set up those alerts when you detect something. if I detect the word silo, I’d be jumping in that channel and saying “Hey, don’t do that.”
You need to work together on common things, so it’s really about understanding what opportunities does the company have for growth? And finding out what is that metric that the company or the growth team kinda line up on.
Whether it’s that activation metric inside of the product, which is the leading indicator for revenue for example, and creating that alignment. When you grow, everyone tries to solve the same problem in their own way.
I would have a marketing-wide roadmap or backlog of different initiatives that you wanna carry out. And then every quarter, you can align that through a tentative quarterly kind of road map because obviously things change.
For me, the most important thing is the metric and the alignment, I think if everyone’s aligned, you’re gonna save yourself a lot of time and problems. I’d also focus on knowing how to validate different things.
Instead of just try and do something, then you think you’re gonna keep on doing it. How can you validate something and if it works, scale it. Or if it doesn’t work, move on to the next thing as well?
Louis: Right, thanks for that. Let me dive into that with you. So, the first thing is you said that you identify a metric to go after to move the needle. How would you go about that? How do you go about discovering the one objective that you really need to nail? What do you look at?
It’s a very difficult question. It takes a lot of time to find that one metric; it’s usually an activation metric within your products.
Louis: Can you define activation?
Jake: Yes, activation is usually the time when the user signs up and then finds the value of your products. And every products is completely different. People usually change the activation metric as the product changes, or they learn new things about their customers, etc.
So, it’s not easy to define, but I guess it’s that one metric where the conversion rate afterwards to revenue, is quite stable.
You can predict the revenue from that. So for example, I type 1, the conversion window and average will say 90 days, the metric happened in seven days. If we know that the activation metric is going north, then we can predict how much revenue we’re gonna get in the future.
For example, from the activation metric, if there’s a 10% conversion rate and it’s quite stable week on week, that’s a good activation metric to choose from.
At Typeform, they were looking for people who signed up, created a typeform and pressed the preview button. That was the metric which fired for what we’re looking at for, that leading indicator of revenue.
And that’s where we would see the algorithms in, say paid search, Facebook, etc. to optimize run; to find people likely to fire this metric. From that, we can look in the short term and predict the future.
Because when we’re looking at ROI, and we wanna tell the finance team, “Hey, this is how much ROI we made. We didn’t just divide the number of people who paid and the ad spend. We looked at how many people clicked on an ad and paid within the same month.
Then we predicted the next year of revenue, and then we had to predict the ROI model, which was quite complicated but it was needed when you have such a lagging revenue number.
Louis: Let me try to rephrase what you said so that I understand it. You would basically look at the indicator the growth or marketing team can influence, that has the highest kind of correlational revenue in the future.
In Typeform and other companies that have a freemium model where you can use the product for free, you can have a lag between the time when someone signs up for your product for free and start paying.
One way to find that is you find the correlation between the behavior that people take and the likelihood that they will pay. And what said for Typeform was if someone–and correct me if I’m wrong–but if someone sign up and within seven days, click on the preview button.
And within 90 days, start to pay, then they are more likely to stick around. Or am I absolutely butchering what you just said?
Jake: Yeah, so people signed up, created a typeform and clicked on preview. That was the best indicator of retention and revenue that we had at the time.
Louis: It sounds like the first step that you would take if you were to join a new company, like that is actually to identify this leading indicator. You would actually work hard to identify what is the core leading indicator that growth or marketing can influence.
So that we can just put all of our effort into that, and align with him around it. As you said, you said that basically all your ads and all algorithm will be optimized for this conversion. Instead of optimizing for sign up, for example.
Instead of teaching the Adwords algorithm to show ads to people who are more likely to sign up, you’re teaching the Adwords algorithm to find people who are more likely to activate. More likely to discover this “aha” moment.
Jake: Exactly. Because, previously, we were trying to optimize around the customer numbers. But because we had so little. For every campaign, it wasn’t enough to feed the algorithm. But then you have a load of sign up numbers, and you can’t predict the revenue from them because they’re not all the best quality.
They don’t all qualify to use your product, etc. You have to find the metric between your sign up and your customer. Somewhere in the middle that you can then feed the algorithm. Because the deeper in your funnel, the higher the quality; and you have a lot of them which will enable you to use machine learning through the advertising algorithm to find more people like that. Not as vanity as a sign up.
Louis: Exactly, because sign up is what we call vanity metric. It has no indication whatsoever. If you just look at signup as an action, there’s no indication whatsoever if this person would be likely to pay or not in the freemium model.
Because you don’t know who they are, where they’re coming from and whatnot. It’s difficult to extract the key learning of out of this, on this podcast and go through it, because you literally need data analysts to help you to dive into the product metrics and do analysis.
Are people who are using this tool more likely to become customer than people who are not using this tool? Or are people using the blog more likely to become good sign ups? You need to dive into it, right?
But it sounds like the principle behind it is; do not pick an objective that is not correlated to revenue. That is a vanity metric that CEOs, and CMOs and Heads of Marketing usually hate. Because they are like “Oh we bring a lot of signups this month, oh but we didn’t see an increase in revenue.”
Jake: Exactly, so try and avoid the vanity metrics because if they increase, but revenue doesn’t increase at the same rate, then it’s vanity metric. You shouldn’t optimize around that because before it would work, but then in some markets, you can get a lot of sign ups quite cheaply but then they don’t convert into revenue. So, you need to find that in the middle grounds.
Louis: You’ll have this one metric that you picked that must correlate with revenue so you bring the actual thing that the business needs. Because that’s the only thing that matters, or even profit at the end of the day.
Could be more, could be lifetime value, not only revenue for first six months, could be lifetime value of customer, the one that are gonna use supports less and spend the most and the biggest value customers.
Now we have that and it’s like, let’s increase that by 20%. And then you said that you would actually make sure to align the team around it, right?
Louis: Let me try to go back to what I was saying. Let’s say, you pick a 20% metric that is directly correlated to revenue growth. Because, as a marketing or growth team, this is what you need to show and not very geometric or anything like that, but actually growth.
How do you go then about aligning the team, which is the second thing you mentioned? How do you go about telling them, “This is the mission that we have. This is what we need to go for.”
Jake: Like I said before, one system we used in Typeform was the OKR setting system. Every quarter, we had like three or four or five OKRs for the whole marketing team that we were aligned around. Which all pointed towards that particular metric.
Also, when you manage like a backlog. Maybe, you have a Google Sheets backlog that prioritize for different initiatives.
Then, you can actually have a column where you say, “What metrics does this initiative push?” if it’s the metric you’re focusing on, in that particular quarter, then it’s a good kind of it to become an OKR, for example.
I guess it’s more around OKRs they want a lens around. Then, what we did is we had a weekly OKR checking every Monday, where the whole team got together. Then, we checked in on the OKRs to see how far we were often mix that to reinforce that alignment we had and to see our progress.
Louis: In terms of the backlog, let’s say you have a backlog of eight years. Because at the start, when you get started, usually that’s what happens. Right? You have a full list of things you could be doing that influence the objective you have. How do you then go about prioritizing the ones that you have to do for the quarter?
Jake: I think it’s a quite common framework. We use the ICE framework. ICE, one is impact. So, how big is the impact of the initiative. C is confidence. How confident are we that is actually going to work? Have we done something similar before?
Do we have experience from it or is it just from how we just read it online? Is it just some idea that no one’s ever done before? And then the last one is ease.
How easy is it for us to do it? How long does it take? Do you need any additional resources? Is it just you or is it design and copy as well?
Based on that, you can create a score out of, say, 15 or 30, however you want to score it. From that, you can prioritize depending on these different metrics.
Louis: You talked about having a roadmap for the quality. Let’s say, with the key initiatives. Am I right in assuming that you would take this backlog and prioritize based on what you said and, then, map out your quarter with those initiatives?
Jake: Yeah, exactly. When you look at what are the company goals. First, the whole company has to be aligned. Afterwards, you can align the marketing around the company goals or the growth team.
Then you can take the top initiatives. Then you can create your roadmap. Ideally, you should have done a lot of research, beforehand, on those initiatives.
When you sat your roadmap, they shouldn’t be to figure things out. It should be to really do those things right, to double down on those things and push them forward more. Because you can fall into the trap where you have an objective which is saying, “Increase signups,” but then, you focus half of the quarter or a good part of the quarter, trying to figure out what to do to get those signups.
You should be spending the previous quarter to create your backlog. Then work on those things, if that makes sense. So, it’s kind of like a rolling backlog.
Louis: It does. That’s kind of “the business as usual” thing that you mentioned. Right? It’s something that you need to spend the time every day, every quarter, every week doing.
Which is to research to get to know your users better, to identify opportunities or improvements and problems and where people draw up and a lot of other stuff.
Jake: Exactly. Then we always split things in between things we want to validate and things we want to double down on. We always have that separation.
We would never just say, “Hey. Let’s do a load of blog articles and create this huge blog.” It’s, “We have this hypothesis that say content marketing on a blog is a great idea to attract new signups to Typeform. What do we need to validate that? How many articles should we publish? How many resources does it need? What’s that success factor?”
That would mean, at the end, we would say, “Let’s actually roll this out fully.” Maybe even hire people and really double down on this initiative. I think, the trap a lot of people fall into, is they try and say, “Hey. Let’s create this blog. Let’s just keep making blog posts.” You know?
But when do you draw the line and say, “This isn’t working,” or, “This is working. Let’s scale it,” or, “Let’s cut it,” and focus on something different.
It’s important to think of things in you were trying to validate something new. And you have a hypothesis or you’ve already validated something before. You want to double down it and really scale it and push more resources into it.
We came up with this concept in Typeform called “Business as Usual Acceleration” where we’d accelerate something which is already proven. We wanted to put all of our resources into it to really scale it up and make a big inflection point in the growth of that particular initiative. Instead of trying to watch for many little things, for example.
Louis: That’s very, very insightful. Making sure that you would audit what is currently going on, what is currently working, what is currently not.
It seems like there is a few things that are currently working that you need to double down on. There’s a few things you’d like to try that you’d need to validate. As long as all of that is linked to your objective for your team, for the quarter, then you’re good to go.
But it seems like you always want to anticipate for the future quarter by doing further research on all of that.
Jake: Exactly. What you can do already is you can draw a matrix map and you can think of all the things we’re currently doing. You can put them into that matrix. You can think of what things are we doing which aren’t fully validated, what things can be scaled, and what things are scaling.
Then, we did that at Typeform and we realized we had too many things in the invalidation phase. We stopped half of them. We just cut half of them. So, instead of doing like eight things, we did four things.
Louis: Show me the two halves in the metrics. What would be the horizontal graph?
Jake: The horizontal one is how have you validated it?
Louis: Okay. So, it’s a yes or no. Validated or not? Or is it somewhat validated? Do you have an in-between?
Jake: Yeah. It’s like your confidence for scaling. The other one is how much have you scaled? Are you maxing out on something?
Have you fully harvested all of the demand for your paid search or is there a lot where you could go if you had additional resources to create more landing pages, for example?
Louis: So, a horizontal line would be confidence to scale and vertical would be scaled. Is it like did you reach the ceiling on not?
Louis: Meaning five words is limiting the amount of people every day they would search for certain terms. So, if you’re super well-optimized for AdWords, it means that you show ads for all of those. You can’t really invent demand for each. There is a limited number of people. Right? So, that’s kind of how it would work.
Jake: Exactly, that’s the point. If you map this out, right now, then you might realize you have too many things in validation or too few things in validation. Then you can try and think of what kind of portfolio do you want to create?
To ensure that you’re always validating new things and you’re also still trying to scale initiative things to have like a really healthy portfolio of initiative to form growth.
Louis: Jake, thanks so much for sharing all of that insights with me. I know people listening, right now, probably quite happy as well. It’s a lot of learning, a lot of mistakes, but a lot of lessons. You’ve learned a lot, for sure, throughout this experience. Thanks for taking the time to do it.
I have three questions left before I let you go. First one, what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, or 50 years?
Jake: What do I think they should learn? The way things are moving is more into machine learning side of things. For example, this is tentative timing.
For example, three years ago on Facebook ads. People are focusing on the demographics of who you are targeting. Then, a year and a half ago, everyone was focused on lookalike audiences to try and find customers to prospect for them.
But then, recently, you just set the conversion, you set the age and nothing else. Then, Facebook is able to use its machine learning to find customers for you.
Because things are moving more to machine learning. Then I think people need to spend more time on really understanding their customers. Really what makes them tick, compared to focusing more on the optimization side of things. Because machines obviously going to take over that side.
Jake: The true differentiator, for you, is actually going to be more on the branding side. The way things are gonna go to more branding because the barrier to entry for technology is less and less. The functional benefits your company have can be easily replicated.
There’s a big shift to more focusing on the brand aspect, more customer centricity. I think that that’s definitely going to be the focus.
Louis: What are the top three resources you’d recommend our listeners today? It could be anything like a book, podcasts, anything.
Jake: One of my top and resources I’d recommend, which may sound surprising, but it helped me a lot to learn and I can grow my career. I would actually just buy a LinkedIn premium subscription and network with people.
It sounds so obvious, but a lot of the things I learned and one talking about today is because I actually decided to outreach to different people and chat to them and learn. So, that’s one of the main things I’ve done to really learn.
You can learn more than you would learn in a book, for example. Because obviously, it’s a dialogue. You’re not just having a passive reading session. It’s not like the obvious choice of things that I would recommend. For sure, don’t underestimate networking and having that network with you.
Another thing that I would recommend is actually it is a book. It’s a very good book. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s called “Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion.” Have you heard of this book?
Louis: I have.
Jake: A lot of people that I know haven’t read it, but I think it’s a must read if you really want to like go into marketing. It covers so many things. You find out every, single thing you do always goes back to one of the points made in this book. By all means, I would definitely get this book. It’s like read it, reread it again and really study that book.
The last thing. The point I made, looking minded customer centricity. I would actually recommend Typeform. Actually, let me mention it. One thing we did do is instead of having one of those more aggressive popups on our landing pages is we had a exit-intent Typeform survey.
When people left, we asked them, “Hey. Why don’t you want to sign up today?” We asked them some different questions. From that, we were able to improve the conversion rates from the landing page. I guess, the point is to really understand the customer through just speaking to them.
I think there’s going to be a shift away from focusing more on these highly analytical tools like heatmaps, clickmaps, even multi-touch attribution models. I think we’re going to go back around old school and just speak to the customer’s minds.
Say, “Hey. Where did you hear about us from?” Make that your attribution model. Or say, “Hey. Why didn’t you want to use our products?” Then they tell you. Stop using heatmaps, clickmaps, data-driven, crazy attribution models and just speak to your customers.
Louis: Amen to that. Completely agree. Back to basics, back to first principles. The book by Cialdini is a great example of that, is the first principles of how people actually behave and how they think.
Things that will never change because the humans are not going to change in the next 10 years. We’re all going to be the same than 100 years ago, 500 years ago.
Jake, once again, thanks so much for all for sharing your insights, sharing your mistakes, sharing lessons. It was really interesting. I was about to ask you where can listeners connect with you? But I think LinkedIn is the answer.
Jake: Definitely, Linkedin. Linkedin is definitely the answer.
Louis: How do they find you? As Jake Stainer? How do you spell your name?
Jake: The whole name, I guess? Okay, from the podcast. You can just like copy and paste it into LinkedIn and find me there. But if you want me to spell it out is J-A-K-E S-T-A-I-N-E-R.
Louis: Perfect. Thanks again, Jake.
Jake: Thank you as well. Thanks for having me.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.