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How To 2X Pipeline & User Acquisition In 1.5 Years with Caroline Guo, Head of Growth at HashiCorp

Caroline Guo is Head of Growth at Hashicorp. In this episode, our host Edward Ford and his guest Caroline talk about how to 2x your organization’s pipeline and user acquisition in 1.5 years.

“Think about impact first and tactics second. In an ideal state, what would you want to build if you had all the resources in the world, the scope, and the time?”

Caroline joined HashiCorp just over three years ago to build, hire and lead the growth team. In this episode, she covers: 

🚀 How HashiCorp has grown its growth team

🚀 How to build effective go to market models

🚀 How Caroline and her team built out HashiCorp’s entire SaaS business segment

🚀 How her team operates across the entire funnel from acquisition & activation to monetization & retention

🚀 The main factors that enabled their growth team to double pipeline and user acquisition

🚀 The importance of diversity within hiring, your team, and the workplace

Stay tuned until the end of the episode to hear what books and marketing resources Caroline recommends.

Let us know what you think of the show by tweeting to us @SaaSGrowthHub.

Happy listening!



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Episode transcript

Edward Ford:

Now joining us today on the show is Caroline Guo, Head of Growth at HashiCorp. And in this episode, we're talking about how to 2x pipeline and user acquisition in just one and a half years. 

Caroline joined HashiCorp just over three years ago to build, hire, and lead the growth team. In this episode, she discusses how they've grown, both the growth team and the business, including how to build effective, go to market models, how Caroline and her team built out HashiCorp's entire SaaS business segment, and how her team operates across the entire funnel from acquisition and activation to monetization and retention. 

We also hear the main factors that enabled their growth team to hit those results, including the importance of diversity within hiring your team and the workplace. So there's all this and more on episode 76 of the Growth Hub podcast with Caroline Guo, Head of Growth at HashiCorp.

Welcome to another episode of the Growth Hub podcast and it's my pleasure to welcome Caroline Guo to the show, who is Head of Growth at HashiCorp. So, Caroline, thank you so much for joining us today here on the Growth Hub podcast!

Caroline Guo:

Thank you so much for having me. I'm very excited to be here.

Edward Ford:

Yeah. And I'm excited about this episode, as today we're discussing how to 2x pipeline and user acquisition in just one and a half years, which is something you achieved. These are numbers, I think, any SaaS marketer would love to hit.

So, to kick things off and to set the scene, you joined HashiCorp about three years ago when the company had less than 300 employees and were just beginning to build out that core marketing engine. So can you describe the situation in the marketing and growth teams when you joined?

Caroline Guo:

Yeah. I'm happy to. So, I actually joined HashiCorp back in July 2018. And I actually didn't know too much about the company at the time. I knew about sort of the space and where things were going, but I didn't know how big HashiCorp was going to actually become. 

And so when I joined the company, we had about 250 people or so within HashiCorp and just to put things into perspective, we're at about 1,400 employees now. So we've grown quite a bit over the last few years.

So when I joined, we were very early stages on the marketing team. I think we had about 25 people within the marketing org. The core functions then were certainly PMM. We had one other person on the growth team. We had some core events folks, digital design, web dev coms.

And since then we've come quite a long way. I mean, we've built out a fair amount of other marketing sub-functions within that, including our core marketing ops team of BI team partner marketing and more, but at the time the growth team was just myself and one other individual.

When I first came in, I actually came in from a background of product management and the growth team was structured by growing products initially. So myself and my other colleague were focused on how do we grow our two core products, Terraform and Vault, and this was really interesting because we were positioned to understand, okay, what are the core sort of use cases and how are people consuming our products and how do we grow the acquisition activation, retention and monetization. 

So we actually did that for about three to five months and realized we probably needed to shift our growth team structure quite a bit, because instead of just looking at the core products we shifted into actually looking at the core business models that we operated in.

So how do we grow the core business models that HashiCorp was in, and to sort of level set on those? There are actually, at the time there were two, but there are now three core business models I'd say that we operate in. 

HashiCorp as a whole is an open-source company first. So our co-founders, Mitchell and Armand, had actually built a ton of really great open-source products in the space that picked up a ton of traction for a lot of our practitioners.

And over time that naturally fed into the second business model that we operate in, which is the enterprise space. The enterprise space of course, was sort of how we make most of our revenue. And at the time when I joined, it was very, very unique because I think for the first three to four months that I was at HashiCorp, we didn't actually have any form of a marketing engine from a traditional, marketing automation, lead, scoring, nurturing program in place.

And so we were actually writing off of just pure inbound demand from a lot of our open source practitioners that really loved our products and wanted to come in and say, "Hey, I actually want to pay you all for some form of an annual contract or an enterprise agreement in SLS because the people at our company loved the product so much and we've been using it that this just sort of makes the next logical sense for us."

And so, we were riding off of just a lot of inbound demand for the first three or four months that I was there, which was crazy because I actually hadn't been in any company that experienced that. And at a certain point we realized, okay, this is certainly not going to be sustainable because we need to build an actual growth engine and a marketing engine here. 

And so, over time we decided, okay, what are the actual things that we need to put in place in the core foundations to ensure that we're not only depending on inbound demand, but we can slowly build an outbound marketing engine as well?

Edward Ford:

Wow. That's really cool to hear. That's definitely hyper growth. And I think this is where many SaaS companies and marketing teams hope to get to. So it's awesome to hear your story of how you actually did it. 

And as you said, you came in to build, hire and lead the growth team. So essentially grow the growth team, which is pretty meta cool. So talk us through the first things you did then after joining, what did you actually do? And how did you approach the first 30, 60, 90 days at the company?

Caroline Guo:

Yeah. So when I actually joined HashiCorp, I came in as an IC and I came in as a growth marketing manager and the really unique thing about my career trajectory at HashiCorp is as the company was growing, it was also growing my career. 

And so, over time, it sort of made sense for me to start to build and grow out and hire the core growth team as I was building out the marketing engine. And so the first few things that we focused on was, okay, how do we actually build out the core marketing engine? And what does that look like? 

So, we built out a pretty strong framework, and I'd say, within the company, we have a fairly strong systems thinking culture. So what that means is we like to think about the business as a core system and what are the different components that would go into the system, this system being the marketing engine itself.

And so, for the growth marketing side of things, that's oftentimes how are we actually going out and acquiring users or net new names, engaging with them in some form of an education system or through nurturing or through digital channels and then getting them engaged past a point where, hey, maybe they're ready to talk to someone in sales. 

Maybe they're ready to engage in an opportunity and so on, and so that is sort of the core framework. And in order to build that core marketing engine and that core system, we needed a lot of the tools, the processes and the people in place. And so the first order of business was mapping out that core framework and deciding, okay, what's the engine? 

What are the inputs and the outputs that we want to build in? And then going in, actually building. I often like to tell my team, think about impact first and tactics, second, so big picture, ideal state, what would we actually want to build here?

If we had all the resources in the world and the scope and the time, what would be our ideal state? And so, sort of mapping that out against our framework and then breaking that out into separate chunks.

 So, what are we going to do in our initial MVP of this V1 V2, et cetera. And so from the start, we didn't have any form of a marketing automation tool in place. So we decided: Let's move forward with adopting Marketo and with Marketo let's build out really the basics of what you needed in a marketing engine, which are going to be your general nurturing programs, your lead scoring, how you're looking at the different types of personas that you bring into the database and how we move them along the journey of educating them about HashiCorp, about HashiCorp products, about how to engage with the different types of products that we have and so forth.

So, those were really the basics of our core growth marketing engine that we built from the get-go. And, the philosophy here was certainly, start off with the basics and start off with the most simple way, because if you sort of try to build something that's too complicated from the get-go, it's really difficult, first of all, to actually build if you don't have any of the core foundations in place, and oftentimes the end users or the people who are building it are not really fully going to grok the system that you're trying to build and so we really started simple.

We had a really simple lead scoring framework in place, really simple nurturing program in place, that just educated our users on the core, I guess, ethos, pathos, logos of HashiCorp and our messaging and sort of how to adopt our products and then over time as they matured, we decided, okay, this is probably a good time for us to pass, XYZ users over to sales for a potential opportunity discussion. And so, that core engine and getting that running is really what I was focused on. Initially within the first, I'd say three to six months of joining HashiCorp.

Edward Ford:

Yeah. That's really, really good to hear. And one thing that helped you achieve those pipeline and user acquisition results was adopting and implementing effective go-to market models. So talk us through, how do you build out an effective go to market model?

Caroline Guo:

So I come from a background in technology consulting and product management. So I have a... I'd say it's a little bit more ingrained in me to have a framework mindset or systems thinking mind set to begin with. 

So, the analogy that I like to use is sort of “how do you build initially a cupcake, a birthday cake and a wedding cake for any form” of a model. So I oftentimes think about building out a function, building out teams, et cetera, as such it's sort of a roadmap. What do we want to do for MVP? And then how do we want to build on top of that over time?

 I use that framework coupled with really focusing on understanding at a very detailed level, what are the core business models that we operate in?

And then: What are the associated user prospects and customer journeys related to those models? So, I mentioned earlier that some of our core models were open source and then enterprise. 

We also have a third business model that we operate in, which is our SaaS business model. So, each of those models have very unique journeys and they're all different and they're all sort of engaging with different types of personas. On the open-source side. It's very much still looking at how are people coming in and finding and downloading our open-source products and adopting them, on the enterprise side. 

It's very much so, how are we actually going out and generating demand with the right types of personas, educating them about our core products and getting them interested in potentially speaking to a sales rep for an opportunity, and then on the SaaS side, we're looking more specifically at the user adoption journey.

So, how are we acquiring users to come and sign up for our SaaS products, activating them down the funnel, retaining them month over month, and then potentially, converting them into monetization from a monthly billing perspective? So, the core of it is really understanding the users and the journeys that they are expected to follow across each of these models and then being able to build against that. 

So, I think if you're able to understand those models and those journeys very, very well and understand your users, you could probably build against any form of metric or growth goal that you have in mind. So again, that sort of brings it back to impact first and tactic second. I think with the tactics, you can sort of play around with a lot of different growth marketing or digital channels here.

We did a few different test campaigns that some went well, some proved to be a little bit less successful than others, but once you have that core model and that core user journey framework in place, being able to map that out, understand at any point where users are along that journey, and then hit those users potentially with a net new digital campaign or net new digital channel that you want to test that will really unlock a very effective go to market model from a growth marketing perspective.

And so, I mentioned the core frameworks of the model, the core roadmap thinking in terms of cup cake, birthday cake, and wedding cake,and then I think the final piece is the final, very important piece is the data and the metrics side. 

So, ensuring that you have a really strong understanding of what is the actual user telemetry, product telemetry as each individual user organization moves along the user journeys. 

So, at a given point, how many people are just getting started with our products, what percentage of our users, or our prospects are actually pretty active, or where are they dropping off? And being able to have that full set of data and into that end to end journey across every single business model is extremely important, because first of all, we, we want to get that data right. And second of all, we want to make sure everyone's looking at the same set of information to drive decision making forward.

Edward Ford:

Yeah, that's awesome. I love impact first, tactic second and I love frameworks. I'm all about the frameworks. So that was great, so, that was the theory and I was thinking, let's go into the practice. So could you give one example of a go-to-market model you launched at HashiCorp?

Caroline Guo:

Yeah, definitely. So I talked a little bit about the SaaS, I think. So, I'll give you an example more on the enterprise side. So as HashiCorp was growing quite a bit over the last couple of years, that ultimately meant that our sales work was also growing in conjunction and so we went through an exercise within the company where we were looking at account segmentation and how do we want to build our sales organization so that it corresponded with how we went to market externally. To a lot of our customers. 

What you'll see in a lot of enterprise companies is probably a pretty similar model where you'll have anywhere between three to four different sales segments that the sales team has split off by, and each of those segments have slightly different selling motions and the selling motions are different because the prospect and the customers will engage with the company in a pretty different ways.

So, an example of that is for us, we looked at, okay, what are the sort of the largest customers that we have and how do they buy and consume our products? And so, what that ended up being is more of the fortune 500 type companies and how they consumed our products was through particularly longer deal cycles. 

It often required anywhere between 10 to 15 different people involved in a lot of these conversations at every single account and it was very much so high touch, highly tailored marketing campaigns that would help drive a lot of these deals through and so that's sort of one way to segment one of our customer groupings. On the flip side, if you look at our SMB space, it's a lot more about high velocity, lower deal size, but much faster opportunity open to close one rates.

And so that's going to be a very different motion. We're relying more heavily on digital tactics through emails, through inviting them to webinars and through product education nurtures along the way and there's a lot more hand holding with the digital side of things in the growth marketing space. 

On the sort of Fortune 500 type accounts. That's going to be a lot more high-touch account-based marketing, account-specific, and so there's going to be a wide-ranging spectrum, really just dependent on how each of the customers engage and consume our products and therefore the subsequent go to market model is going to be tailored against that.

Edward Ford:

That makes total sense for sure and you also develop the SaaS segment of HashiCorp's business, including systems architecture, the roadmap, team functions and analytics, which is a pretty huge undertaking, but I think it's super interesting that you did that. So can you talk us through the process of how you actually built out the SaaS segment of HashiCorp's business?

Caroline Guo:

Yeah, this was a great problem. I thought it was one of the most interesting business problems that we could solve at the time. So a bit of background on this is the order in which we built out the business models. I had mentioned where we started off open-source and then moved into enterprise and for quite awhile, that was what we were focused on within HashiCorp and so when you're operating in a more of an enterprise business model. 

I think what you end up seeing in a lot of companies is a little bit of a waterfall approach, I guess, internally where, product and engineering start to build out a set of features, the features to get communicated out into marketing. Marketing pushes that out across the different web channels and ensures that people are aware of it.

Sales also pushes that out to the actual customers that they use or that they engage with and I wouldn't say it's completely waterfall where it's one to two to three, but there is a little bit of a lag between, when a feature goes live to when marketing pushes that out to when sales gets that in front of the customers as well. 

So, I think when you move to a SaaS business model, you can't really function in that mode anymore because if one thing changes in a SaaS product, there's almost immediate implications of how that's going to impact potentially how finance does billing or how marketing is capturing information about, user product telemetry or how it's going to impact reporting. So as soon as like one thing changes in a product, it's going to flip the switch for all the other downstream GTM teams, and you see that a lot more on the SaaS side.

And I think the other difference is when you're operating in an enterprise business model, there's also a lot more of a buffer between when the product gets built into how customers and prospects understand the product, because there's a buffer with an actual sales rep or a sales person, who's building that relationship with the core customer or with the core prospect.

In a SaaS model, you don't really get that buffer. It's oftentimes like if you don't win the user immediately, you're probably going to lose them if they don't fully understand your product and the value, once they go through onboarding workflow, you're probably going to lose the user almost immediately and it's heavily reliant on marketing to try and re-engage and get these folks to come back through a lot of our digital channels. 

So, when we actually built out our staff business function, we actually first decided what are the core products we want to offer in a managed service forum?

And at the time there was a fair amount of market demand for providing managed service versions of HashiCorp products. And so, we knew that this was something that the market wanted, and it was a very high priority for us as a company. 

However, on the internal side, it did require a little bit of an internal shift for us just based off the way that the different teams internally were working together. So we actually developed. Within HashiCorp, we have this idea of core product trios that are driving a lot of the decisions forward across PMN engineering and PM. With the introduction of this, we actually turned this into a quatro where we were also determining growth along in this core product quatro to determine, okay, what are the actual user lifecycle metrics? And how is that determining the business?

So what we did is we first mapped out what is the framework, of course, bringing us back to a framework, but what is the framework that sort of makes the most sense for a SaaS business model. So we ended up adopting the pirate metrics, which is pretty standard across the industry, or some of the folks called it AARM, which is A-A-R-M, but the pirate metrics essentially are acquisition, activation, retention, referral, and revenue. And so once we adopted that framework and got alignment and agreement across that, we started to build against that.

So, we started to figure out, okay, what are the core metrics and things that we want to capture that would determine success for any of our core SaaS products. Once we got alignment on that, it was ultimately what is the actual systems and architecture going to look like for us to be able to capture all of this information across the end-to-end user life cycle.

And once we were able to get all that information and have every single team consistently looking at the same set of data, then we were in a really strong working rhythm of ensuring that, hey, what's actually happening within the product.

Why do we have a drop-off in the month of February versus the month of June? And what does that cohort of users doing? Oh, well, we found out that they encountered this specific product feature and so how do we go back and rework some of the workflows within the product to ensure that this doesn't happen in the future. So, that sort of pulled all the pieces together in order for us to really work as one unit collectively, as opposed to a traditional more waterfall approach that you might see within other enterprises.

So, and I think one final point on top of that too is, we didn't... So on the systems and architecture side, it required all this data to come together across like, how is the support team going to manage and provide support for a SaaS product? How has finance going to and actually report out on this? How has accounting going to take in this information? How is legal going to get involved here? And so all the different GTM teams, including product engineering had to sort of come together to look at a holistic systems architecture workflow that captured all this information and was able to push it into every single downstream place for every team as well.

Edward Ford:

Wow, that's awesome. I can imagine that was a pretty incredible experience to work on that project. And a SaaS funnel is so broad. You spoke there as well. It covers acquisition activation, monetization, and retention. So how are you and your team able to effectively work across all those different areas?

Caroline Guo:

I think that's a great question because, it's sort of one of those things where you can never just focus on one part of the SaaS funnel or the user life cycle, because you don't necessarily want to forego investment in any of the others.

All the areas are important and if you forego investments in one, it will probably impact the subsequent parts of the funnel. And so it's a little bit of a cop out answer to say that you want to look after every single part because ultimately you do but I think maybe another way of looking at it, is sort of depending on the maturity of the product, you could probably layer in some form of a chronological focus. So for us, when we first developed initial MVPs and initial iterations of some of our SaaS products, it made sense initially to focus purely on acquisition and activation because when the product was in early stages, the focus was, "Hey, we just want to get users in the door using the product."

And so we have a baseline understanding of how are people coming in and engaging with the product and, and how is it performing and are people going to stay, as the product matured and we built in more features and it became more robust over time. It also chronologically made sense for us to double down our efforts in how are we retaining the users? How are we converting them to monetization over time?

So, I'll say that every single part of the funnel is important in that we have something, some form of digital campaign or a digital channel looking after consistently after every single part of the funnel.

But you could probably layer in some form of a chronological focus depending on the maturity of your product and also sort of tying this back into the growth engine and the growth marketing engine. If you build a strong and robust enough engine to begin with a lot of these things can probably just be running in the background and your core growth team is just looking at how do we continuously optimize it over time? And so you don't necessarily, if you have the engine working in place and properly, you don't necessarily need to have dedicated resources consistently building against it. You just have people optimizing it over time.

Edward Ford:

Yeah, for sure. And coming back to what we spoke about at the start of the episode, you doubled all those numbers, including user acquisition and pipeline. So what were the main factors that enabled you to hit those numbers and get those results?

Caroline Guo:

Yeah, so to a certain extent, I think, we had a really great base to work with in that, there's a lot of value existing in sort of the HashiCorp brand and our products are fairly well-known across our practitioner space. And if you stripped out growth marketing from this as a whole, I'm sure that just based off of organic growth, you'd see some pretty stagnant numbers, but the importance here is really areas that we can control from a growth side to be able to double a lot of the numbers that we talked about. 

So, I talked a lot about the framework and the model and having the core engine in place, because I think that core foundation really helped get us a really strong baseline and gave us the freedom to go test different tactics and different channels that we wanted to.

So, because we had the core framework, the reporting, the engine in place, we said, okay, let's get a little bit creative and a little bit more unique with some of the things that we could try out and so, one thing that we tried was, a lot of our practitioners and a lot of our users are on Twitter. How do we maybe, get something going from a viral Twitter campaign perspective. So we sort of took the free swag approach and said, a lot of our people love, a lot of our users love swag. So how do we create some buzz by just sending out some free items to a lot of our users that are early adopters, or come in and start getting activated and engaged with the product. And so, as we started to roll this out people loved the swag items and were posting on it, on Twitter and, and that created a fair amount of buzz.

And so that was a little bit more on the creative side that we pushed out, which is interesting, but every quarter and every month or so we're thinking about different types of unique things that we can do to continue to drive growth but then that can only be done on top of the core foundation of the engine. 

So, we have all the digital channels and paid acquisition channels running consistently over time that give us a pretty good and fair amount of user acquisition growth. And then ultimately we ensure that they come into the products are successful and then get activated. And then ultimately, that turns into retention ultimately turns into revenue. 

So, that core model really needs to be working and then once we have that in place, that gives us the freedom to test out a few different ideas.

Edward Ford:

Yeah. That's awesome. As great as all the frameworks, models, demand plans and tactics are, I think at the end of the day, as a marketer, you can not go wrong with swag, never underestimate the power of swag. Yeah. That's a great example. And one thing I wanted to touch on before we move to our closing questions is that you're also an advocate for diversity with hiring and within the workplace. So how important has that been to your team in helping you achieve such great results together?

Caroline Guo:

Yeah, I love this question. It's been very important. I'd say having a diverse team and having a diverse set of different mindsets and backgrounds and beliefs really bring a lot of unique ideas to the table.

And it really helps sort of question the status quo of how we do things. And so I think for me personally, diversity and inclusion and diversity in hiring is very important because I've had personal experiences where... When I started off my career, I didn't see a lot of people like myself in tech, in consulting, in product and I do strongly believe that when different forms of minorities don't see examples of themselves, it can create self limiting beliefs. And it oftentimes will cause people to sort of question like, can I really do this?

Can this actually be done? And so it's, it's a very important value for me personally and I'm very lucky to work at HashiCorp where the company and leadership really does value, creating a very open, collaborative, communicative environment for anyone to come work in, focusing in prioritizing diversity and inclusion hiring and that certainly, emanates through out my direct team and one thing that I like to focus on is really just attributes based hiring and that sort of helps remove bias from the interview process as a whole. 

So very, very near and dear to me and very, very fortunate work at a company that values this as well.

Edward Ford:

Yeah, absolutely. That's really good to hear. And Caroline, this was super good and we could now move to our 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 are you ready?

Caroline Guo:

Yes, I am ready.

Edward Ford:

All right, let's do it. So the first question, what's the one book you'd recommend others to read?

Caroline Guo:

Yeah. I really enjoyed reading “Getting to Yes”. It's about negotiations, but I think it applies to working with any team anywhere and working cross collaboratively.

Edward Ford:

Awesome. Great recommendation. Second question. A SaaS company you love and why?

Caroline Guo:

Yeah, I'm a little biased because I think about SaaS companies more from the product and user experience perspective. So one thing that we've used, that we used to use is ChartMogul, great for SaaS MRR finance reporting, all you have to do, it's plug and play. It's very simple. 

You plug it into your data sources and you see everything that you need a report out on. And I think their pricing model is interesting. It sort of is priced to grow with the success of their clients.

Edward Ford:

Nice. Third question. Favorite place to learn about marketing online?

Caroline Guo:

Podcasts actually. I love hearing and just listening to different stories about GTM leaders, marketing leaders share how they built their teams and how they found success on podcasts.

Edward Ford:

Yeah, absolutely. Fourth question. Most important growth metric?

Caroline Guo:

This might be a cop-out answer, but I don't have one specific risk metric primarily because I think a standalone metric isn't necessarily valuable unless it's in relation to metrics over time or other metrics. So, I think you actually need the full scope of the journey metrics to tell you the story of growth or success.

Edward Ford:

Yeah, definitely. Then: fifth and final question. Best piece of advice for fellow marketers?

Caroline Guo:

I say this to my direct team a lot when we're designing and developing different plans or go to market campaigns, but Ockham's razor. So I think the simplest solution or simplest explanation is almost always the best one. So always start with that and then if we want to build on top of that, we can add complexities from there on.

Edward Ford:

Yeah, absolutely. Start simple. Keep it simple. Can never go wrong with that. So, awesome. Well, Caroline, I have to say this was absolutely amazing and thank you so much for coming on the Growth Hub podcast.

Caroline Guo:

Thank you so much for having me. This has been a lot of fun.

Edward Ford:

That was Caroline Guo on how to 2x pipeline and use acquisition in just one and a half 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 @NordicEdward or connect on LinkedIn.

So thank you so much for listening to the Growth Hub Podcast, brought to you by growth marketing agency, AdvanceB2B. This is your host, Edward Ford, signing off, and make sure you check out for content and resources on everything B2B SaaS growth.