Growth| Leadership

How to go from manager to VP in 3 years with Krista Martin, VP of Growth at Boardable

Aug 12, 2021 21 minute read Edward FordEdward Ford

Last updated 12 August, 2021.

"As you're finding what really fuels your success at a company, it's often in your people..."

Krista Martin is VP of Growth at Boardable and in this episode, our host Edward Ford talked with her about career acceleration. Just how do you go from Marketing Manager to VP of Growth in only three years?

Listen as Krista explains how she made the step up, and the crucial factors that contributed to it. She also talks through growth, building a team and choosing the right-fit company for you.

Krista aligned her professional and personal passions when she joined Boardable, and she shares her journey to rapid career growth, including:

  • How she leads growth at scale
  • How her growth team operates
  • What product-led growth at Boardable looks like
  • The qualities she looks for in people who are to join her team
  • How to actually make the move from mid-level manager to a VP or C-level role

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

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Links:

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Product-Led Onboarding by Ramli John

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Transcript of the episode

Edward:
Welcome to another episode of the Growth Hub Podcast. And it's my pleasure to welcome Krista Martin to the show who is VP of growth at Boardable. So Krista, thank you so much for joining us today here on the Growth Hub Podcast.

Krista:
Thank you for having me. I'm really happy to be here.

Edward:
We're really happy you have joined us, because we are covering something super exciting. How you went from marketing manager to VP of growth in just three years. So this is going to be super useful for anyone who's looking to accelerate their own career growth. So to kick things off, you had a strong product background coming into Boardable. So why did you want to get into marketing and growth?

Krista:
Yeah, great question. And just even hearing three years, in a startup three years feels like a lot more than that. So this is a fun topic for me to talk about. My background, it is in product, but my first job out of school actually was as an analyst at a media company. So I had a really great entry into technology where I actually got to try out a lot of things. So I do have some marketing chops and I got to start right out of school at a media company, where I got to cross promote products that we were both creating. So on the product side and then also getting to plug into a TV station, and a full newspaper, and websites. And so I actually got to practice a lot of my demand gen skills through that first experience. And then the great thing about that, as an analyst, I actually got to focus so much on how all of that was performing and how it actually changed behavior in my product.

So it was I think maybe the best way that I could have personally gotten into tech. And so as I have been in product and the opportunity to go into a startup where I could bring some of that marketing side back into my day-to-day operations, I was really excited to take on that challenge again. Again, just starting something, really getting that community starting to be built through paid channels, and then seeing how they come into your product and how they interact has been something that has been so exciting for me throughout my career. So I definitely have a stronger product background, but I do have some of that marketing under my belt as well.

Edward:
Yeah, that's really cool to hear. And you mentioned that the main reason you were able to make this accomplishment, of going from manager to VP in three years, is because you followed your passion. So how were you able to align your personal and professional goals at Boardable?

Krista:
I have always had the goal to either become a CEO or an executive director of a nonprofit and giving back in some way to this world is really important to me. And that doesn't always happen through your career. It can happen through volunteering. It can happen through raising a family. There are a lot of ways to accomplish it. So as I started taking on different product management roles, the product I was creating, so right before Boardable, I was in health revenue management. And really interesting, I was on the business intelligence team. I got to dig into a lot of interesting problems, but that end user that I was serving, I just wasn't relating to them. The creativity that was needed in that role, it was quite low. It was a very structured industry and I was looking for something different. So when I started looking for what was next for me, I happened to actually hear Boardable pitched at a networking event.

And Boardable, we build tech for nonprofits. So right away I was really interested in "How could a nonprofit tech maybe be this crossroads of both my personal passions for nonprofits and the technology background that I've really started sharpening? How can I make both of those work together?" And I felt so lucky to come across a really young company. At the time, when I came on of board role, I was full-time employee number two. So it was very early, but I was able to find that sweet spot where the end user, although software can't always go and say, "We're saving the world," I do get to build software for individuals that are changing the world. And that has always been my north star. Through really high-growth SaaS companies. Often you can get a little bit lost and focus maybe too much on revenue and scale and having a north star of your end users who are out there and doing incredible work, and every time you talk to a customer, it kind of humbles you, has been one of the biggest pleasures of my career so far.

Edward:
Yeah. That's amazing. You've been able to make the two and find a role at the crossroads of your passion. So for anyone out there, who's still looking for the answer, how can you find your passion at work?

Krista:
That is a really good question. I think, first, just really being very focused on what type of company and culture that you're joining. What is the underlying north star of that company? It's really important to know that before you come on board, because that's going to really give you the roadmap of how you can start plugging in your passions. However, if the product isn't exactly what you've been dreaming about your whole life, that doesn't mean you can't find passion in your job. Other ways that I've found passion. Making sure if there's something that's missing at your company, being willing to step up and start it. Maybe that's corporate social responsibility, if that's your passion. Or maybe it's taking learnings that you've actually had outside of your day-to-day and bringing it in lunch and learns, or attending events, or even taking classes that are outside of your day-to-day, I think always helps fuel your passions, because if you're interested in a topic, and you're willing to go and learn it, and you care about your work enough, that's only going to improve not only yourself, but the company you're at too.

So learning is so important, I think. Learning fuels passion, and that always comes back in a positive.

Edward:
Yeah, definitely. And in addition to finding your passion, what other factors have helped you grow your career so quickly over the last three years?

Krista:
As an individual contributor, so being either I'm a product manager, or if you're a marketing manager, or maybe if you're doing both, the skillset that is needed is very different than leadership. So as you build your career, it's really important to recognize where you find your energy. And when you're an individual contributor, it is so exciting to approach a problem and solve it. And often it's on you. So if you just launched a new campaign and you can get very focused on only things that are surrounding that campaign, or maybe if you build something new. It's launching, it's getting out there, it's optimizing it, it's figuring out exactly how to make that one area better. And often the feedback or the reward you get is personal. It's for you. You did that. You got that feeling of accomplishment after you succeeded.

And as you think about growing your career, you have to start learning new disciplines and you have to actually level up in areas that aren't going to feel that same feedback or reward right away. So as you grow in leadership, it's important to invest in that. So what I did, as a product managed and marketing manager, I was managing a lot of work, but I was not managing people. So I invested in a leadership coach and really just helping me change my frame of mind of where you find success. So, yes, I still continued all of my individual contributing work, really getting to build a product from zero users to in the several thousand now. You get to keep trying those things, but at the same time, you need to figure out how to let go of some of those jobs I would call them.

So you have to figure out how to train others as you add numbers to the company, give them the tools they need. And then you have to let go a little bit, which can be hard coming from an individual contributor background. So, first thing I did, I hired a leadership coach and we worked through just some of the new frameworks that I would start using in becoming a better manager and leader. And then on top of that I have always invested in upping my SaaS game. So I joined the Reforge program with the Growth Series. So that was a six-week program, where it's on top of your full-time job. You're just diving deep into the best practices that are happening across the industry. It means you're getting outside of your day-to-day. You're working with others who have walked this walk before. And that is so important as you look at your progression in your career, because maybe you think you want to be in a position and until you really, one, start investing in yourself, but also talking to others who are there, it's hard to get there.

So it's important to not only go and learn and invest in education, but I think also connecting with others who have been there is so important. Finding those mentors is going to help you find your path. The other thing, really important, as you think about growing your career, is picking a company that has growth potential. If you're looking for quick growth, you probably don't want to go into a really structured, large company. Sometimes that timeline of thinking about three years, it just might not be possible in that type of environment. So finding the right mix of opportunities to grow maybe in your career with a job title, if that's what you're looking for, but also just in the skills you'll be learning and getting to practice on a daily basis. Super important.

Edward:
Yeah. This is super useful advice. A lot of really, really great takeaways there. And you spoke about leadership, which is something we'll come onto in a moment. But before let's talk about products and growth first. And a big reason why your team was formed was because of your company goal to become a product-led company. So how do you think about and approach product-led growth at Boardable?

Krista:
Product-led growth. The topic that everyone has been talking about so much. We have had a free trial from the first day we launched this product. So that has been a really helpful, I would say, cornerstone of our business of we always want our users to be able to try the product before they ever talk to someone at our company. It's always been the front door to our team. And it's been a big part of being able to keep us at a small company size. However, product-led growth is not only a free trial. It has to really bleed into how you're approaching your business from all different angles. So product-led growth to us right now, it means that our product is leading the experience. That doesn't always mean that product is closing the experience. So that often can be a difficult topic when you have a sales team and we absolutely do, and they are amazing. But we also have goals around self-service closes.

So when you have both of those in a company, it's really important to understand what your goal is. Is it always to close without talking to someone, or is it to let your product do the lion's share of selling and also acquiring users? So if you have a free trial and you have a sales team, absolutely, it's an and statement. It's not an and for. But the other nut we're trying to crack, if you want to put it that way, would be, how do you make sure your product is your main channel of acquisition? And that is hard, especially when you are in a space like we are, that doesn't naturally lend itself to product-led growth. Maybe your users are a little less tech savvy, or maybe the problem that you're solving isn't on the top of everyone's mind every single day. So being able to find those experiences within your product.

And that experience starts on your website. So all the way from when they Google your product that first time. Boardable. I need to know what that experience is going to be like in the product all the way to when I sign up for that free trial. And when we're approaching that we are working across the entire company to make sure we are leading with product, which can be tough. So that's where we're at right now. We're still figuring out a lot of how to make our product the main channel for acquisition. So we have a great marketing team, that is outside surrounding the product with other channels that are bringing users to us. So that's where we're at right now. I would call always product-led growth is a hard way of moving. It's more approaching and getting closer to product-led growth, because the product has been leading from the start and it's going to continue to lead throughout. But how much of the percentage can that take over is what we're trying to figure out.

Edward:
Yeah. I think this is a really good way to think about product-led growth. And you're VP of growth and you spoke about investing in leadership skills earlier on in your career. So how do you lead growth at scale?

Krista:
Growth is such an interesting practice. It looks different in every single company. I've talked to other growth leaders who are sitting on maybe the marketing side of the business, and so their first goal is more on the acquisition side. Our growth team actually sits on the product side and our team, we move across the entire business, as many growth teams do. But really where we first started focusing was on the product itself and how do we make sure that we are setting a foundation in our product that is conducive to grow? So as we build, as we release new features, how do we make sure that they are set up for habit building with our users? How do we make sure that they are set up for experimentation? Because growth is such a big piece of experimentation and, how that happens at your business.

So on our team, we are the experimenters. Any part of the business, we can find an opportunity. We can say, "Okay, how can we move this needle today?" And I guess we can kind of get into the structure of my team. So we are working across all areas of the business, like I said, to leverage the usage of the product and drive more customer and revenue growth for the company at whole. We do that through forming hypotheses and composing experiments. And those experiments are often around internal messaging. It can be around collateral, especially the trial UX. So that first-time user experience, we focus heavily on that. We work with our sales team with demos. We own pricing and packaging. Onboarding, product user experience. So we really do work across the org, but we also make sure that we rally our entire company around the product. And that means we actually enable every single department around each launch.

So we do a lot of things. And how we do that, I have product marketing under me. I have a growth engineer, so we are actually delivering code. And then I have a principal data scientist as well. So we use that cross functional team and we just go and move quickly. The speed of which we can move, because we are cross-functional and we have a mix of skillsets that lends itself to each area of the business, we can just move a little bit faster. And then we partner with each of those teams. So leading a team like this is different. As I just mentioned, I just mentioned skillsets that I don't have. I'm not an engineer. I'm not a data scientist. And although I have marketing experience, I am not a product marketer.

So it is leading people who are often going to be better at their discipline than you. That's exactly what you want. And so, as you're finding what really fuels your success at a company it's often in your people. How are they succeeding? How can I make sure that they are resourced to become the best versions of themself? Because that's going to output growth, not only personally for them, but for my company and for my team. And so as you really run a team like this, that is so agile. And experimentation on our team, it means that I'm going to be asking my team to often go into areas of the business that might feel a little bit uncomfortable at first. Okay. We might have to try something that we haven't done before. And growth, if you're not okay with being uncomfortable and in starting an experiment and saying, "Okay, here's what we're trying to do." And monitoring and tracking the success of that.

If you're not okay with, at the end of it, saying, "That was a failure," you're not going to find success in the growth field. Failing is okay, as long as you are learning from it and figuring out how to approach that problem in a new way after the experiment is over. And that is not natural to many people. So as you lead a team like that, you have to create a culture that is learning first. Me saying, as the leader of the team, "Hey, I think this area of the business.." So maybe it is growth itself. I need to make sure I'm still investing in my knowledge there, so I can lead them in a new paths, I can give them material that may open up their minds and how we're approaching a problem. And then the same back. I want them to be feeling comfortable enough to give, me direction, at times. So it's an interesting team. It's not your typical top-down structure and department. I have a lot of really skilled and senior individual contributors that are working with me across all of the business.

Edward:
Yeah. That's really good to hear. And it's interesting your growth team sits in product, but it makes total sense. And you spoke a bit about things you do and how you work across the org, but let's get a little more tactical and operational. So how does your growth team operate? Can you talk us through your operating model or framework?

Krista:
We are a year old. So I would say our framework has changed a little bit, especially as we've staffed up. Just for context, we are just hitting our 50th employee and earlier in 2021, we were at 20. So we are scaling very quickly. And what that means is there's a lot of change happening across our company, across the board. And so there are different needs at different times. So I would say we do still run projects as a team that have a longer timeline. For example, working with our marketing ops and sales, we're actually tackling how leads are signed using PQL scoring, as well as actually some really cool machine learning around what that lead looks like. How do they map to other buyers and [inaudible 00:21:37]? So we get to play in that space. That is more of a day-to-day touch point that we have to have with those teams, because it affects so much of our operations across the board. So we are playing in spaces like that but outside of that, we also running experiments.

So our experiments typically last about two weeks. And when I ask all of my team members to do, we align our experiments up with our OKR as a company. So if we're trying to move a certain metric, it's how can we surround that metric across the business? And what experiments can we be running to hopefully make some positive change in a quarter? So we operate that way. And then we also align it with our build cycle. So our product side of the organization, we use the shape up model or the shape up framework, that's not a framework, which means you have a build cycle that lasts six weeks and then you have a two-week cool-down. So a lot of the work we do has to coincide with those releases, because we are actually getting in there and often our growth engineer is coding, and he's making updates to often the experience of the product with first-time user experience at trial, making sure that we're activating our leads as fast as possible. So often we're going to have to be bit dependent on code releases on the product side of the business.

So it's a little fluid. And I think that's exactly how it has to run at our company, because we are a team that's moving across the entire business. Now with product marketing, you have to develop product marketing at each company, and that's going to have certain touch points across the business that are on a cadence. So my product marketers, they are meeting with everyone across the organization enabling and also creating new messaging for our products. And that's released actually each week they have touchpoints. So again, a little bit all over the place, if I were to say, is it a framework? Not yet, but we are finding the ways to be most effective and really approaching that from an agile way. "Okay. Is this working? Where can we make a difference right now?" And then trying to align that with all of our company's OKRs really direct where we focus each quarter.

Edward:
Yeah, that's really good to hear. I love asking this question, because I think no two growth teams work in the same way. So it's always good to hear how certain growth teams run and operate, even though it's an ever-changing process. But thinking about how others then can accelerate their career growth, what are some of the skills that you look for in growth, marketers or people who you'd think about bringing on into your team?

Krista:
Recently, my colleague, she shared an article that is about Molly Graham. It's titled Give Away Your LEGOs, and Other Commandments for Scaling Startups. And I think this is such an interesting article, especially for if you're in a high growth company and you are scaling very quickly. What you look for is different depending on what stage you're at of the company. What I look for is the ability to let go. So what this article talks about, it's saying as you grow at a really fast-paced startup, you have to actually give away your Legos. You're building this really cool tower at the beginning, especially me thinking about the beginning of my career, I had all the Lego., I was doing 10 jobs. I was building that tower just how I liked it. And then you add someone and you have to give away some of those Legos.

And sometimes the really tough part about that is that you feel ownership and pride over what you were building before. And someone might build it a little bit differently and being okay with that is a huge leadership skill. You just have to be able to do that. And although my team is made up of individual contributors, they are absolutely leaders in our business. And they have to go and they have to go into different areas of the business, dig in. They have to start something. And then often they're going to have to give it away. And they're going to have to say, "Okay, my job is now changing again." And so being okay with a little bit of chaos is important. Being able to really comb through everything that's going on in the business and be able to focus and make movement forward is difficult for some people.

And that's something you can learn. You can definitely get better at it. But if you don't thrive in that type of environment, it's being aware of where you're going to succeed [inaudible 00:26:36]. So what I look for is someone who is able to adapt to change. And that change be uncomfortable, so someone who's willing to be uncomfortable and then grow from it, which is kind of funny being on a growth team. But I absolutely look for growth in how people deal with challenges. So in an interview process, how do you find people if you actually haven't put them through that type of work? When I'm talking with new individuals that could either be on my team or across the company, it's How are you growing yourself? How are you investing in maybe SaaS?" SaaS is changing all of the time, especially in marketing and product and growth.

There's something new to learn every single day. How are you keeping up with that? And how do you find your fuel to keep going through the hard times? Those things you can learn from outside of just a business day-to-day job description. You really can get a feel for that. And then as you are running those teams, maybe you find the areas that need help with your people, and you make sure you invest in those and you make sure that they feel like they can grow their career where they're at. And I think that automatically produces a better team atmosphere when you're all investing in yourselves as well as just a culture that says, "It's okay. It's okay to not know the answer right now, but I will make sure you get what you need to answer it in the future."

Edward:
Yeah. This is so valuable to hear and actually following from this, what advice would you give to current mid-level marketing and growth managers who want to become a VP on how to actually get there?

Krista:
Yeah. I think first, do you want to? There's so much value in saying as an individual contributor, and that doesn't mean you can't grow your career that way, where do you want to be running a team or do you want to be really owning your work and in charge of what you're producing? And there's a lot of value there. So I think first asking yourself that question, "Where do you find value in your day-to-day work?" So after you say, "Okay, yes, I want to run a team. I want to lead a team," then you need to be okay with giving away your Legos. It's going to feel uncomfortable. It's going to... wow, it's tough. So for example, product marketing, you're always coming up with the next best thing. You have to be okay with someone coming in and saying, "Actually I see this differently and I would run it different."

And that doesn't mean you don't help guide and direct, but it does mean that you have to be okay with others coming in with different ideas and letting them run with them and supporting in some areas. Where before you were in charge of that and you were running it from an individual contributor standpoint. So I think that's really important just as you sharpen those skills of, "Okay, my success now actually looks like the fact that I have created a team that's able to actually build more, because I now have spread out these Legos and they're building bigger towers than I could have ever built on my own." And the reward that you get from that is different. And so as you continue to take on more, you can start actually practicing those things of maybe it's working cross-functionally with another department where you're helping with something you're teaching, you're giving some skills that you know to someone else and helping them build, helping them build a new way that maybe they weren't thinking of. So there are opportunities to practice and to start really getting yourself to that leadership level that you want.

I think the other thing is showing up in a calm manner. Often, if you're at a fast-paced moving company, there's chaos everywhere. And the ability to really take a breath and sift through all of the noise and find the right way, or maybe it's not the right way, but to make a decision and to move forward is such an important skill to have. It may not be the best decision, but decision making is difficult. And if you can't do it because you want to sit there and analyze every single way that it could either succeed or go wrong, you're not going to be able to move at the speed to lead a team, because decisions have to be made and there has to be movement. And coming from maybe mid-level, you often get a little bit more time to attack a problem from many different angles. When you're leading a team, you're tackling a much larger problem set, so you're going to have to move out a little bit of a different speed.

Edward:
Yeah, this is really good. You got to question the goal. And then if you decide to go for it, be prepared to give those Legos away. So it's a real good takeaway. And, overall, this was super good. And we can now move to closing questions and our fast five challenge. So to wrap things up, I will ask five questions and all you need to do is answer as quickly as possible. So Krista, are you ready?

Krista:
I am ready.

Edward:
All right. Let's do it. First question. What is the one book you would recommend others to read?

Krista:
Right now, I have been reading Product-Led Onboarding by Ramli John, and it has been amazing.

Edward:
Yes. Awesome. Second question. A SaaS company you love and why?

Krista:
Miro. I've been really interested in their pricing and packaging. They've been doing a lot of experimenting with it, so it's been fascinating just from a observer to see how they've been changing their company. And then also, during this pandemic, it's really helped our remote teams and our hybrid teams collaborate in a really efficient way.

Edward:
Nice. Third question, favorite place to learn about online?

Krista:
I am a fan of Reforge. Absolutely. Reforge has helped me a lot.

Edward:
Yeah. Absolutely. Fourth question. Most important growth metric?

Krista:
So we actually look at the natural rate of growth. And if you're not familiar with that, the natural rate of growth helps pinpoint the percentage of reoccurring revenue that comes from organic channels that starts in your product. So it's a formula, but we look at natural rate of growth.

Edward:
Nice. And fifth and final question, best piece of advice for fellow marketers?

Krista:
Marketing. You should always be experimenting. Try new things and don't be afraid to fail. But fail, but learn from the failure and get up and try again.

Edward:
Awesome. Well, Krista, I have to say this was absolutely awesome. And thank you so much for coming on the Growth Hub Podcast.

Krista:
Thank you so much, Edward.

Edward:
That was Krista Martin on how to go from marketing manager to VP of growth in just three years. So thank you so much for listening. And if you're enjoying the show, we'd love for you to leave a review and rating on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. And as ever, you're always welcome to reach out to me on Twitter on NordicEdward or connect on LinkedIn. So thank you so much for listening to Growth Hub Podcast, brought to you by growth marketing agency, Advance B2B. This is your host, Edward Ford, signing off and make sure you check out advancedb2b.com for more content and resources on everything B2B SaaS growth.