Strategy| Growth

Build & organise your early stage SaaS marketing org with Emily Kramer, Co-Founder at MKT1

Jul 23, 2021 32 minute read Edward FordEdward Ford

Last updated 28 July, 2021.

"It’s definitely not a job for everyone, and I see a lot of turnover in these roles."

Building an efficient marketing team for an early-stage startup is always a challenge.

  • Where should you start?
  • Which roles should you prioritise?
  • Should you prioritise specialists over generalists?

Our host Edward Ford had a chance to chat with Emily Kramer, Marketing Advisor, Angel Investor & Co-Founder at MKT1. In this episode, they are talking about how to build and organise your early-stage SaaS marketing organisation.

If you’re, yourself, in the process of building your team, you’ll want to listen to what Emily has to say.

She has built and scaled the marketing teams at Ticketfly, Asana, Carta, and Astro, and, in this episode, she talks us through her framework for structuring your marketing team.

That includes:

  • The roles you should hire first
  • Why you shouldn’t hire t-shaped marketers
  • How marketing teams should prioritise and focus
  • How much hierarchy you need in your marketing org
  • The story of how Emily built and structured Asana’s marketing team

Stay tuned until the end to hear what books and marketing resources Emily recommends, as well as her favourite piece of advice for fellow marketers. 👀

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And let us know what you think by tweeting to us @SaaSGrowthHub

Enjoy the show!

 

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Links:

MKT1

High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil

Follow Emily on Twitter

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Follow Edward on Twitter 

 

Transcript of the episode

Edward:

Welcome to another episode of The Growth Hub Podcast. And it's my pleasure to welcome Emily Kramer to the show, who is co-founder and advisor at MKT1. So Emily, thank you so much for joining us today here on The Growth Hub Podcast.

Emily:

Thanks for having me, looking forward to chatting with you.

Edward:

Yeah, likewise. I'm excited about this episode. Today we're covering a topic that is a pain point I think every single SaaS boxing team will run into. And that's how to organise your early-stage SaaS marketing org. Now, I guess no two marketing orgs will look exactly the same, but you've developed a framework org chart over time. So to kick things off, I was thinking, can you talk us through that basic foundational structure.

Emily:

Yeah. And for some context, I've been the first-ish, first, second or third marketer for SaaS companies, all at different stages. So I was at Ticketfly when it was series C and as the third marketer. And then, I was at Asana for four years, where I was the first marketer and scaled that team up to about 25 people over those four years. I was at a seed and Series A funded company called Astro, which later got acquired by Slack, launching the product for the first time, and I hired two people. And then I was at Carta, which was at a much later stage when I joined. But they didn't really have a marketing team, and I grew that team from two to about 25/30 in a year and a half. So I've built a lot of marketing teams.

So I've learned the hard way how to do this and how not to do this. And I think the conversation that I've had most frequently when I was in these roles with other heads of marketing CMOs, VPs of marketing is just, how are you organising your team? How are you organising your team? Because it's pretty complicated. And I think that's also something that founders get confused about as well. It's just, how do I do this? And a lot of the conversations I have when I start advising companies, which is what I do now, is just, who should I hire and how should I think about this? And there are so many roles in marketing. So there's, I don't know, 25 plus unique roles within marketing. So how do you think about that, and how do you bucket that?

So for early and growth-stage SaaS startups, I think about three major buckets. And with your first few hires, you want to make sure you're covering off on these buckets. That doesn't necessarily mean you have one person squarely in each of the three buckets because marketers have different skill sets. And I love marketers that don't fit into a box, and those are actually my favourite marketers to hire, which we'll talk about later, I imagine. But without further ado, I'll tell you what those three boxes are; that was the long lead-in. But the three buckets are product marketing, content marketing and growth marketing. Top-down sales organisations will usually call growth marketing demand gen the whole thing. I still like to call it growth marketing. I think it sounds more fun. 

And then, of course, the other bucket is Design. And design usually at the beginning is sometimes a centralised organisation with product and brand design and sometimes part of marketing. So I won't go into that too much, but you will, at some point in the early days, need a designer to help you with marketing. And that could be a full-time person. It could be a shared responsibility with the product design team. So I won't touch as much probably on that, but design is really important as part of this as well. But I'll talk about the pure marketing functions.

Edward:

Yeah, that's awesome. And we'll hear it in more detail later on, how you built and organised some of those teams. But let's say you're an early-stage SaaS company; which marketing hires then would you recommend making first and why?

Emily:

Yeah. People often talk about hiring T-shaped people. I talk about, for marketing, hiring pi-shaped people. 3.14, that kind of pi. And what that means is there are two vertical lines, and one's a little shorter than the other. So what that means to me is that you're an expert in one of those three areas I described. So you're an expert in growth marketing, content marketing, or product marketing, and you're proficient to the expert level in another one. So that could look like, most pi-shaped marketer that I often see is a product marketer who's really amazing at writing and understands content strategy. So they're a product marketing, content marketing pi-shaped marketer. I just said marketing seven times, but hopefully, that's clear. The other one that I typically recommend that you hire first, depending on the skills of the team already and what the team needs to do right away, I recommend hiring a product marketing, growth marketing pi-shaped person. 

And whether that person spikes more in product marketing or growth marketing really depends on the organisation. So that's most often what I recommend. Someone that could help with that initial positioning and messaging, really figure out and analyse the audience deeply, and then figure out how that messaging applies to that audience, what needs to be created to market to that audience and then can start to build out that growth engine to get that information out into the world is really important in the early days. These people can be hard to find though; it’s hard to find people that have these two skill sets. But typically, people that have worked at startups before have had to wear many hats or at least had a lot of exposure to the areas of marketing. Whereas if someone just comes from Google or something, they're going to have been more in a silo and probably only skilled in one of these areas. So just a caveat there and where to look for these people.

Edward:

Yeah. That's super interesting. And you spoke there about preferring pi-shaped marketers rather than T-shaped marketers, which is super interesting. Something I never heard of and definitely a good framework to think about. And this is a question I've asked before on this podcast. So should you start off by hiring generalists or specialists early on?

Emily:

I think the concept of a pi-shaped marketer is somewhere in the middle. If you're a specialist, a generalist, it's a spectrum. It’s in the centre. I think that's why I say pi-shaped. They need to be willing to and learn how to be a generalist if you're in one of those early-stage roles. That's one of the advantages of taking one of these early roles and one of the reasons why I just kept taking these early roles four times in a row, which is a little crazy. It's because you have to become a generalist, and you have to do all of these things, no matter what the job description says. No matter what your skillset is as an early marketer, you're going to be doing all the things that need to get done. Sometimes even out, not even within marketing.

So I think you have to become a generalist, but I think you're hiring people who potentially have been specialists in two of these areas or 1.5 of these areas. So yeah, I think part of the value of joining early is if you are a specialist is becoming a generalist. Increasing your breadth a lot when you join an early-stage company. So I tell people that have been more in specialist roles, if you're trying to eventually be a head of marketing or lead a large portion of a marketing team, joining one of these early or even growth-stage companies and being in one of these roles is going to force you to get that breadth. So for me, having done this a number of times and then scaling as the head of marketing, people often ask me what I specialise in. And I'm like, I don't even know anymore. I specialise in being able to put it all together and doing all of it because of the nature of the roles that I've had.

Edward:

Yeah. Definitely. And you spoke about the three buckets that you should start with. So growth marketing, content marketing and product marketing. So let's talk more about those. So can you clarify exactly what their scope is and what people in these three roles would own?

Emily:

Yeah. I'll start with product marketing. That's what founders always think, especially. Oh, I need to hire a product marketer first, and I'm pretty sure that's because VCs tell them that. And that's somewhat true, but I'll start with that one. I also think this is a little bit of a misunderstood function. So two things about product marketing, one, I think a better name. And I actually wrote something on my name list. I think a better name for product marketing is actually audience marketing. Because the main responsibility, before you even understand the product deeply that you're marketing, is to understand the audience deeply. And not just how the audience thinks about your product or the problem you're trying to solve, details about other tools the audience is using and what their day is like and what other problems they're facing and where they like to read information and how they like to read information.

So that's number one with a product marketer. They need to deeply understand their audience, they need to then deeply understand the product, and they need to figure out how to communicate about both the benefits and the features of that product to that audience. I think additionally, besides deeply understanding and figuring out who you're communicating with and what you're saying to them, you also serve as the glue of the marketing team. You tend to be working with all of the other sub-functions. And you're also usually the most cross-functional person on the marketing team because you're working with both sales, depending on the business model, a lot with sales to help them position the product and communicate with prospects and customers. And you're also working a lot with the product team, giving them feedback that you're hearing and also working to understand the product and properly explain how it works to customers and prospects.

So yeah, if you think about product marketing as the owner of understanding the audience, I think it's almost easier to know what they should focus on. And an early-stage company's content can also own comms and PR in the very early days if that's important to you. And so content for me is telling the story of your brand and company and product. Working with other people on the team to help you do that. So they're really owning the story, they own the content calendar, and they're figuring out what content is going to best engage the audience and move them down the funnel. And part of that is working closely with product marketing, but it's also working closely with growth marketing to figure out distribution. Whether we're going to try to get organic search traffic to this, or we're going to distribute this with partners or whoever that might be, that's also part of this. 

So owning a content calendar, telling the story of the brand and trying to help get people to that content. Some content people can also own community early on if that's important to your brand as well. That can go hand in hand. And content marketing and product marketing together, I view as the fuel of marketing, whereas growth marketing is the engine. So product marketing, content marketing are the fuel, and then you have to make sure you have a way to get that fuel out into the world. I think my metaphor is breaking down a little bit, but you got to use that fuel to start a fire. I don't know, metaphor is breaking down. But content marketing, product marketing are the fuel, and then growth marketing is the engine. And as I mentioned before, growth marketing can be called a million things. Actually and frequently with top-down sales organisations called demand gen.

And their job is to own the channels and campaigns and also the KPIs. So they're going to be launching, tracking, optimising these programs or campaigns across multiple channels in order to move people down the funnel. So they need to be highly analytical; they need to understand the multiple channels, understand how to optimise across channels, how to prioritise channels, et cetera. So that's how I think about these three buckets. And a mistake that I see a lot is when building out teams, teams will over-index on either side. So they'll have an engine, but they'll have no fuel to put in the engine. So it's like you have this perfectly structured machine, but you have nothing to drive it. So people aren't going to care. 

Or I see people building all of this content and they have all this fuel, but they're not thinking about distribution at all, so it's not doing anything. So really getting that balance right between the fuel and the engine is another way to think about building up a team, especially for founders or even marketers that just don't know all of the lingo that we use. It's just as much more simple way to think about it.

Edward:

Yeah, I love it. That's super good. I'll remember that metaphor for sure. And you spoke about other buckets as well earlier on. So when do you know it's time to invest in these other areas? So things like comms and PR field events, brand and-

Emily:

Yeah. One caveat there is, I don't necessarily think that you're not doing those things at the beginning. They're just specialities, and it doesn't make sense to necessarily have a full-time person focusing on. So in the example of comms and PR, having a content marketer or a product marketer work with a contractor, an agency, could make sense in the beginning. It often doesn't, but it could. Same with events, especially virtual events, webinars, and things like that. Content marketing or product marketing can run those at the beginning. But to go into the question of, how do you know when it's time to invest in these things? I think PR really depends on how integral it is to your strategy and how much the story that you're trying to tell is actually covered by the press.

So if you are a company that's operating in a very trendy space like the creator economy right now, or crypto or whatever the trendy space is at the time. FinTech to some degree. And you have a founding team that maybe has some credibility. I mean, this was definitely the case at Asana; PR was important because the founder started Facebook as well. So early on, he had a lot of credibility and built additional credibility because of his work at Asana over time. But if you're in a space that media loves to cover and you have a founder that wants to do press, which is not often the case, and you have a really interesting story and unique angles and somewhat controversial angles to put out in the world, it could be something to invest in early. 

If you don't have those things, it's going to be much harder. And it probably doesn't make sense to do much besides launching your company, doing the tech crunch announcement that everybody does. And potentially writing some editorial thought leadership pieces that you get placed as by-lines in some of these publications. And those things other marketers can do or work with a contractor on a one-off basis. But retaining a PR agency or PR firm at the beginning is really expensive and also hard to measure. When you feel like there's just a natural story you want to be getting out in the world and you feel like there are people to cover them, that's when you start to do this. I think it becomes obvious in some ways. The next one you asked about, I think, is just events. And again, well, obviously over the last year or so, not as much of a thing during COVID. But webinars and virtual events were and those can be managed by multiple people on the team, whether you're doing trade shows sponsorships or doing your own in-person events, as those start to come back. 

There's a lot of logistics with those, and I think it depends on who you're trying to reach. And like I said, deeply understanding your audience and how they make decisions. And if they make decisions by attending these events, then it can be important to have a presence. That said, I think you can get a lot done early on if you have a clear strategy here set by product marketing usually. And you hire a junior generalist on your team, marketing specialist type person who can help manage some of these logistics. So that can be someone just starting out or wanting to do more event stuff, but can help in other areas of marketing too. Like staging blog posts and helping get things out on social media and helping with reporting. So having that specialist that helps across all things and especially focused on events is really helpful.

And that's how I've covered off on some of these areas where I've been able to guide on strategy, and it's percent of someone's time, whether it be 10 or 20 or even 50% of their time. I've hired these junior specialists that have high aptitude, highly motivated and want to grow in a marketing team. So, long-winded answer, but that's how I think about those two things. From the start, again, it depends on the business model. If you are a self-serve product, moving people down the funnel through your website and your product. So self-serve freemium product led growth, whatever we're calling that these days, design is going to be more important versus if you're doing a sales and outbound approach where the main things that you're doing is having conversations with people and using decks and things like that.

So I think depending on the business model, this becomes important earlier. I think every startup needs someone to help them do their website and help them do a logo fairly easy to outsource. There are great agencies that do this, great agencies that build on Webflow, WordPress, things like that. But you need someone that really knows how to manage that. So if you have a marketing lead or even a founder, even a product designer that understands design and can help guide that third party, that's really helpful. And then it depends on that business model. And this is something that you have contractors for when you start to use so much of a contractor's time or things start to look really inconsistent or not feel good. That's the time to bring it in house.

Edward:

Yeah. Definitely. That makes a lot of sense. And following from here, how should you recruit early-stage SaaS marketers, and how do you know someone is a suitable candidate? Since I think it's not a job for everybody.

Emily:

It's definitely not a job for everyone. And unfortunately, I see a lot of turnover in these roles, and I think it's because founders aren't necessarily finding a person that's the right fit and I think people don't necessarily know what's involved in the role. And what's involved in the role is strategy and execution, having to do everything in marketing, even if that's not your speciality, and having to move really fast and have an experimentation mindset. And also, I think the key is being a really good prioritiser. So to break those down a little bit more, early marketers, they have to be able to set the strategy for the team, but they also need to be comfortable getting their hands dirty and rolling up their sleeves and just doing it. And I think some marketers that have been really senior don't want to go back to those roles.

I think I'm an anomaly where I lead marketing at Asana, and then I wanted to go to a seed-funded company as their first marketer and be involved in the beginning. I don't think that's normally the case. And similarly, if someone's only been in a purely execution-based marketing role and they haven't even been exposed to strategy, they're going to have a hard time. So really what you're getting is, look for a mid-level person that's had some strategic experience, understands multiple areas of marketing, at least working knowledge, and is also still excited to roll up their sleeves and really do the work of an early-stage startup. And in turn for that, there's a risk/reward situation where you're early, so you're getting more equity. And there's also the learning, and like I said, becoming that generalist and your career can accelerate a lot faster.

Even if you don't pick a winner of a startup, it can accelerate a lot faster because you just learn a lot more. And then you go to other places and can just be a really powerful marketer because you know how to do all of these things. So I look, again, for this mix of ability to do strategy set goals, and then actually do the execution work and highly prioritise what actually needs to get done. I think for the prioritisation goal setting organisation piece and just the general velocity, having start-up experience is really helpful. So I looked for people that have worked in startups before. It's okay if they haven't necessarily gone as early as you are as a startup, but having experience in that really fast-growth environment, I think is important. It's also important because on the large teams, as I mentioned before, marketers get more siloed.

So yeah, I'm looking for these mid-level people. Maybe they were reporting into a VP of marketing or reporting into a director of marketing in some cases, depending on the size of the team they were just on, looking to really take that jump and be able to do all of marketing and hopefully grow into a role of leading a team and building a team around that person. As that person comes in, every role after those initial people changes the course of who you need to hire next. So job descriptions also often get thrown out the window if you're building a marketing team correctly. And the reason for that is just, again, there's so many different areas of marketing. So finding someone that fits an exact box is really difficult and also means that you might be missing out on someone that has a really interesting mix of skill sets that align really well with your business.

So I find that I make hiring plans, and then I throw them out the window. And this especially happens in hires like four through 10 on the team, where I just need people to take things off my plate and people on the other team's plate. So I'm really looking for people who I think can augment the team in some way and compliment the skill sets, and are also just really eager to get in and do the work and resonate with the audience and the mission and the product of the company. So I make this hiring plan and then just break it all the time. Because I want these people that have that mix of experience that I described and are high aptitude, highly motivated, and highly aligned with what the company is doing. So it's difficult. 

I mean, this is the thing that as an advisor I help founders with the most, is recruiting. And early marketers at companies, I mentor them on who to hire next. And it's definitely really complicated, and it's a lot harder than, say, just sales, where you're just hiring account executive, account executive, account executive, BDR, BDR, BDR. Not to say that those people aren't unique as well, but it's a simpler scale; the same rollout and marketing is so different. So that's what makes it so complicated.

Edward:

Yeah. I can definitely relate to that. And on this topic, would you advise that you develop a role that you're looking to hire for and you search for someone who matches really well with that. Or would you prefer the other approach where if you find someone really good, who would be a good fit and then you just create a role for them. Which way do you prefer to think about hiring?

Emily:

I mean, I think, so job descriptions, in my opinion, are marketing tactics for recruiting. They are ways to get people in the door inbound or through referrals and give some guidance on what you're looking for to get people in conversations with you. And then if you find someone great that you know can help, whether you're the founder or an early marketing lead that can help take things off your plate and are a really great fit for the company and have a really interesting set of skills, then I often create new job descriptions for them. I'm like, you came in for this product marketing role, but really you're this hybrid of a product marketer and content marketer. I'm not a title person, and I've worked at companies that haven't had titles, so that's made this way. So we can exchange the title; I don't care whatever the title is.

But here's the new job description to align them. And I'll usually do that towards the end of the interview process, just so they know what they're getting themselves into. So I always put out the job description. Sometimes I often tell companies to put out two job descriptions, even if they're looking for one role, with slightly different profiles. Because it doesn't really matter which function they're best at first, because you're going to need all three of those buckets, and you need someone who can come in and get started and is comfortable wearing many hats and learning new things. So sometimes I'll tell people to put up both the growth marketing role and the product marketing role and see who comes in the door and make a call that way. Especially if they're not familiar with those.

So I just put out a job description; I try to make them not overly specific but clear what they would be doing as a way to get people in the door that vaguely match what I'm looking for. And then I purely go on, how much can this person help us with and how much do I think they can help scale and grow both the team and the company, and throw out those job descriptions when I'm interviewing people that I think could be amazing. So the first hires that I've made at those companies that I talked about, none of the people ever matched the job description exactly. The second marketing hire. If that was the first hire, the second hire never matched the job description. Maybe it was close generally, but it normally wasn't really that close. And it's because when you are hiring early on, you're sharing these descriptions both publicly, but also, you don't have a lot of traction as a startup, so you're not getting a lot of inbound interest. So you have to go through referral networks. 

And people are sending great people that they think align with the company to you and you're taking a gamble on people sometimes based on referrals and things like that. So yeah, I think, have the job description, but then be comfortable throwing it out the window and creating a new one if you meet someone that you think is really great.

Edward:

Yeah. I think that's super good advice. And you spoke earlier about the need to be a prioritiser and early-stage market's got a lot of ground to cover. So how do you advise early-stage marketing teams when it comes to prioritisation and focus?

Emily:

Yeah. I think the key to prioritisation is really good goal setting. And in marketing, a mistake that I see is just having goals that are KPI based. So just having a goal drive as many leads or qualified leads or contribute this much to pipeline or just only metrics focus. And the problem with that is early on, there's some things that you're going to do that are more long-term strategies that you need to build up over time. So they might not have immediate, huge impacts on some of these numbers. So I like to have a mix of project-based goals, big high impact work that you think is going to move the needle and getting that out the door. I like to have goals around testing things and trying a number of tests and learning from those tests as well as your typical web traffic plus a conversion rate to someone filling out a form goal. As well as goals more down the funnel around leads or activation of the product, if it's a self-serve product.

So getting the mix of goals right is really important. So saying, what's the big bet, what's the high impact project that we're making right now? And that can be, we have a launch or we are going to make all of these templates that are going to drive people into the product and be our wedge in. Whatever that big project is, the big thing that could cause step-change growth or be high impact. And then, as I said, also goals around testing. This could be as simple as, test 10 things on the landing page and report back on your learnings or share learnings broadly or something like that. I can write a better goal than that probably, but you get the idea. Testing and figuring out what's most important is really valuable.

The other thing I'll say about goals, one huge mistake I see in goal setting marketing is I know I just gave a run ten tests. Other than run ten tests goals, you should never do goals on quantity of things. Because marketing isn't about, I'll give you an example, write five blog posts this quarter. That's a terrible goal. It doesn't matter how many blog posts you put out. If the blog posts aren't for the audience and adding value for that audience, they're not going to matter. So you could write one blog post that does more for your company than 20 blog posts. In fact, that ends up being often what you see. So yeah, you're going to have some misses and you want to put things out there, but you really want to focus on, why am I getting people to these blog posts?

So I like to have goals around web traffic to those posts or even conversion to filling out forms. Again, depending on your business model, that really say, I don't care how many blog posts you write, I care about how much impact they have. So those are some notes on goal setting. And then prioritisation from there is somewhat simple. Does it ladder up to a goal? And if the answer is no, you should really think about why. And if someone on another team is asking you, you should say, well, as I communicated at the beginning of the quarter ... which you should always share your goals at the beginning of the quarter and say, this is what I'm focused on. Is anything missing that you think you might need, especially as a marketer to the sales and product team. Then you can go back and say, well, this isn't aligned with my goals. How would you slot this in given that these are the things I'm focused on? So I ruthlessly prioritise against goals.

And when I have a team that are doing something that doesn't ladder up to the goals, we talk about it. And that also means that sometimes your goals need to be flexible, because sometimes things will come up that are more important than your goals. And then I recommend re-writing your ... augmenting your goals for the quarter so they're not just completely irrelevant. So goal setting, whether that be OKRs or just simply goals, whatever works for the company and where they're at. Quarterly goals reviewed monthly, breaking down some of those metrics goals month by month and ruthlessly prioritising off of those well communicated goals. So the hardest part ... well, there's a lot of hard parts in early-stage marketing. I think that's the hardest part. Once you've mastered some of these skills and if you're comfortable figuring things out on your own and learning from reading the internet, then that's definitely the hardest thing. Is goal setting, prioritising and making sure the rest of the company understands why you're picking what you're picking. Hiring is the hardest part, and then that is the second hardest part. I'll say that.

Edward:

This is amazing. And I have been that marketer when you've had quarterly goals say growing the number of PQLs or MQLs by a certain amount compared to the last quarter, and then you go away and then you think, what am I going to do? Because there's so much you can do to influence that across the customer journey. So having those high impact goals, testing goals, micro conversion goals, whether it be increasing the conversion rate of the specific page by a certain amount, I think is super good advice. And it then gives you that focus, which then lets you prioritise. So my goodness, this is a light-bulb moment for me. So this is super good.

Emily:

I think the mistake that people make ... What happens if you just have those goals is people are encouraged to just do things that keep the lights on or drive linear growth. And really, you have to get step-change growth. You have to have things that drive step-change moments and cause that uptick that never goes away to have a new ... It's much easier if I was drawing on a whiteboard to show this, but you can imagine the graph. So if you just have those goals, you're not going to do the right things. Because the things you test might colossally fail and they might not contribute to MQLs, and they need to be judged off of different metrics. But that's a really good learning experience, and it makes you want to try something else. That could be the thing that causes the step-change drivers.

So yeah, you've got to encourage testing. Testing little things as well, but thinking about ... When I work with companies, one of the first things I like to do is identify the things that could cause step-change growth. What are the growth levers that could make a huge impact? What are those things? And then the goal is to keep the lights on and keep doing what you're doing to keep that linear growth. But every other bit of your time is focused on testing to see if these step-change drivers could be effective. So that's how I think about the strategy on what should we do. It's really thinking, what could cause the step change for us?

Edward:

Yeah. Definitely. That makes a lot of sense. And one thing I would love to ask before we come on to hear some stories of how you build marketing teams from scratch. And that is, how much or even how little hierarchy do you need for an early-stage SaaS marketing team to function well?

Emily:

Yeah, that's a really good question. And I've been in companies that have completely opposite perspectives on the hierarchy as an organisation. So some of this is going to depend on the founders and how decisions are made, and how the company is structured overall. Asana was pretty flat, especially at the beginning. We had people that were leading teams, but people had areas of responsibility and things that they owned rather than very specific titles or hierarchy. That said, I think it's important to have someone who is the leader of the team that is responsible for making sure that they are communicating well with the rest of the company and creating a feedback loop with the rest of the company and helping communicate about overall strategy, things that are needed. Because marketing can't operate in a vacuum, and it's often very dependent on what the product team is doing.

So having that lead that's really helping break down barriers cross-functionally, I think is really important. So I think it is important to have that level of hierarchy. And then I also think it's important too if you are hiring a specialist or a junior generalists, that needs to be made clear. But beyond that, having clear areas of ownership is what's important. And more so to me than titles are a lot of hierarchy within that. That said, the one thing I will caveat is I have taken too long to create a reporting structure and had way too many people reporting to me. And I think there's a lot of mistakes that a lot of startup leaders, no matter what the team make. And you really have to make sure that you're not spreading yourself too thin.

So seven direct reports is ... I usually go to 10, and then I'm like, oh no, I should've done this at seven. So when as a marketing lead, you have five to seven direct reports, you should start thinking, I need to have some managers on the team. And you should be thinking about that when you're hiring anyway, getting people that are senior enough to do that. But starting to put that in place somewhat earlier than you think in terms of making sure you don't have too many reports. So for me, at the beginning, you just got to have, maybe there's someone junior, and there's someone leading the team and there's everybody else. But as soon as you hit that eight-person mark, you got to start having other people manage people, or you're just going to drive yourself nuts as a marketing lead.

Edward:

Yeah. Definitely. I think I've been at five once, and that was pushing to the limit. So I could imagine once you go beyond seven, then you're ready to hire new people to help manage. And this was super good. And you mentioned at the start that you built the marketing teams from scratch at Asana, Carta and Astra, to name just a few. So can you talk us through the story of how you built out one of those marketing teams.

Emily:

Yeah, let me focus on Asana because it was probably the most normal. Carta was interesting because I joined late in the company's life cycle. They just didn't have marketing, they had a large sales team, and that was the priority. So I came in late and built the team in rapid-fire. So let me focus on Asana. So yeah. With Asana, I joined when it was a series B company. They were just about to launch their paid plan for teams. And they had some traction already and definitely had product-market fit already, which isn't often the case. After myself, I really focused on there.I really wanted someone that was going to be good at helping get the people that had tried the product or in the product to engage with the product. And then started using Asana with their team and then ultimately pay for the product.

So I focused on finding a life cycle marketer who could do both email and in-product work and help me a little on the top of funnel acquisition side. But my experience at that point was really in top of funnel and product marketing. So the life cycle piece was just really important to help move people down the funnel. That's not usually the case, because you don't necessarily have that top of funnel going. But essentially, I hired a growth person who could write some of the messaging as my next hire. And then scaled from there around myself and that person who ... I think the other thing to note there is the first person I've hired after me has always been someone that I thought had the potential, both in the breadth of their experience, their motivation level, their aptitude level, their hunger to be a marketing lead in the future.

I wanted to hire someone who could cover a lot of bases and was comfortable doing so and willing to learn a lot because they ultimately wanted to be in that role. It's not necessarily an explicit question that I ask; it’s just a thing that I can sense. And what's interesting is that all three of those companies, the first person that I've hired is either now leading a marketing team. One's leading marketing at a series B company. One was leading marketing recently at a series A company, but is now founding his own company. And another is leading B2B marketing at a company that does both B2C and B2B. So I think I hit the nail on the head with those three people, all in those roles now. From there though, like I said before, at Asana especially, I built around myself and first person that I hired to really compliment our skill sets.

I believe the next person that I hired was a content person. I didn't have as much experience on the content side at that point. I was forced to write a lot in college, and going to liberal arts college, you write a lot. So I could write, but I never thought of myself as a writer. That's changed over time. But I hired a content person. And then, I believe I hired someone to focus on top of funnel acquisition. So managing our paid agencies and also focusing on SEO and the website. And then I just kept thinking about this balance of fuel engine and making sure I was balancing that out, and then making sure I hired someone ... The most senior person I hired was someone who led product marketing and content marketing. What we would call, I hate this name, but corporate marketing, which is all of those areas.

And I was still leading design at the time, or brand. So I hired her, and actually I then hired her again at Carta for the same role. So that was really key to start getting ... Then all of the product marketers and content marketers that we hired could report into her. I was still leading, for a while, the growth part of the team. So yeah, complimenting skill sets, hiring these pi-shaped marketers at the beginning, and then balancing the two on the engine and augmenting with contractors and making sure you have good people on the team to manage those contractors and agencies or else it's not going to work out if you don't have people to manage them, which is the catch-22 of contractors. So yeah, I think the flexibility to hire great people and build teams around them is the fun of it and how I've approached it. 

Edward:

Awesome. This is really, really good to hear. We could then just move to our closing questions and our fast five challenge to wrap things up. So, Emily, I will ask five questions, and all you need to do is answer as quickly as possible. So are you ready? 

Emily:

Yes. 

Edward:

Cool. First question. What is the one book you'd recommend others to read?

Emily:

Yeah. I think the most helpful book I've read in recent years is Elad Gil's High Growth Handbook. It's not just about marketing, but there are lots of little interviews with various leaders. And I find it helpful that you can go in and read one section. So I found that really helpful. I also think he's an amazing angel investor, which is something that I've gotten into more recently in the investing side. So maybe that's also why I like it. But I think it's really valuable for marketers and especially marketers trying to understand how a whole organisation works and not just marketing.

Edward:

Awesome, a great recommendation. Second question. A SaaS company you love and why.

Emily:

I love Figma, but I won't talk about that. I also love Webflow. I actually just wrote another newsletter on why you should just use Webflow. Stop using headless CMSs or even WordPress and just use Webflow. It empowers marketing so much. So for me as a marketer, it's empowered me so much to create websites myself with minimal knowledge of code. And so that's amazing. The product itself is amazing, which is rare great marketing. It's much easier to have great marketing when you have a great product and vice ... Well, no, not really vice versa. It's easier to get people to your great product when you have great marketing. But their marketing, they have all these educational videos that are irreverent in their tone and just speak to the audience.

They're fun to watch, and you're learning something new and really helps the audience learn how to do this. Because really the audience here is people that haven't necessarily built websites before, so it's making that experience fun. And I just think they're doing fun things and taking chances on the content side. I'm biased because a friend of mine who has worked with me before is leading content over there, but the content takes chances. It's really empowering product, and they're really building a community of people that are obsessed with it and are evangelising the product. And that's really valuable as well. And I'm one of those people that is obsessed with it and is writing whole newsletters about why you should just use it. So Webflow for sure. And I think they're going to take over the B2B website world. So watch out, WordPress. 

Edward:

Yes. Absolutely. Awesome. Third question. Favourite place to learn about marketing online.

Emily:

I don't know if this is an acceptable answer, but I feel like most of the great things I find start from Twitter, hashtag marketing Twitter. That's a good one. But yeah, I feel like a lot of the things I find are starting from there, and there's a lot of great Twitter threads and things like that. So yeah, I feel like not as many marketers are on Twitter as they should be. It's funny, I've had so many people that are marketers, and I'm like, "Can you manage social for a short period of time?" They're like, "I've never used Twitter." And I'm like, "What are you doing?" So rather than going to one destination, it's where I start, and there's a lot of great nuggets from there. 

Edward:

Yeah. Absolutely. Fourth question. Most important growth metric.

Emily:

This is a trick question, because I think it's really important how all the growth metrics work together. This is not the most important metric, but I feel like people over-complicate metrics. And you need to have marketing and sales data connected, and product data preferably. You need to get your whole funnel and a whole view of your business connected. And often, that takes a while as a startup to get that connected, because it's complicated. But the one thing I think is funny that companies just don't really analyse is just your web traffic and the conversion rate on your website. I've asked so many founders, I'm like, "Well, what's your web traffic?" And they have no idea. And marketers, I'm like, "How often are you looking at this?" And they're like, "Once a month."

And I'm like, "What?" This is every day. I want to know, how many people came to my website? Where did they go on the website? Where did they come from? Where did they come from is huge. Where did they come from, and then what are they doing on the website? And are they converting? Are they filling out some sort of form? Are they signing up for the product? Are they requesting a demo? So web traffic with a conversion rate, a benchmark that you're trying to hit, I think is just ... that's just table stakes. You have to be tracking that, but I don't see everyone just tracking that rigorously every day. And super valuable.

Edward:

Yep. Absolutely. And then the fifth and final question. Best piece of advice for fellow marketers.

Emily:

Two things. One is to add value. There's a lot of really crappy marketing out there. If this isn't something that you'd be proud to personally share with the audience, put your name on, et cetera, don't write it, don't put it out there. So add value, really understand your audience and do things that make their lives better. And that's what marketing should be all about. I ask that question a lot when I am reviewing work, do you think this adds value or what's unique about this, or why is this different from other things I can find on this topic? And you need to be able to answer that question before I would publish it. And that goes for everything, not just content. It's just easier with the content angle to talk about adding value. The other thing is focused on impact.

So, as I said before, you need to do things that cause step-change growth to grow as a company and meet your marketing goals. And so, focus on impact. Don't just do what everybody else is doing, don't try to do a little bit of everything. Focus on things that you think are going to be big wins and that you can be known for as a marketing organisation, and double down on those things after you test them and you know that they work. So add value, focus on impact, and I think you'll get pretty far.

Edward:

I love it. Add value to your customers, make an impact on the business. So it's a perfect place to finish and wrap up. Emily, again, I have to say this was absolutely awesome. And thank you so much for coming on to The Growth Hub Podcast.

Emily:

Thank you for having me. This was fun. I love talking about this stuff, so I appreciate it.