Brian has been a co-founder of 4 companies in the past 10 years, 2 VC-backed, 1 angel-backed, 1 bootstrapped. 2 acquired, 1 shut down, and 1 TBD. He blogs about entrepreneurship, customer/user acquisition, and product development.
→ What it means to be an entrepreneur in residence at Trinity
→ His thoughts on how marketing evolved
→ His opinion on the current state of marketers
→ How money impacts customer acquisition
→ His key metrics for looking for a possible investment
→ Habitual mistakes that startups make
→ Advice on how to grow a startup
→ And a whole lot more
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Brian Taylor. And today I have Brian Balfour with us. Brian, thank you so much for being on the program.
Brian: Thanks for having me.
Bronson: I know you’re super busy. You got a lot going on. So it’s I know it’s hard to make time for things like this, but we really do appreciate it.
Brian: Just, you know, it’s fun teaching people about this gross stuff.
Bronson: So, yeah, I’m glad you think it is. You can come out here and teach. Okay. Well, let’s talk about you a little bit. You’re a serial entrepreneur and in a minute, we’ll kind of get into that more. But for right now, tell us a little bit about your current company or I should say companies, and tell us what it means to be an entrepreneur in residence at Trinity.
Brian: Yeah. So I really don’t have a company right now. So my er roles at venture firms are really sort of great transition roles for entrepreneurs who are kind of rolling off of their last gigs, kind of need some downtime to sort of explore the world and bring their heads up from being, you know, heads down for, for so long. So the er role at Trinity Ventures who’s you know, one of the top venture capital firms here in the Valley that focuses on consumer as well as enterprise series type stuff, which is a great place to do that. They see a ton of great companies, they work with a ton of great entrepreneurs. And so right now it’s been really about getting a broad view of the world, helping out as many entrepreneurs as I can and really figuring out what company I want to start next.
Bronson: Yeah. Do you find yourself getting antsy, ready to get back in the game? I know for an entrepreneur it’s hard to be on the sidelines. Right.
Brian: You know, people I’ve talked to so many people in this er sort of transition state and it seems like everybody has their own little timeline for me. You know I’ve been, I rolled off of my last company back in late August of 2012. So I’ve been in this transition period for about five or six months. So I am now like I’m ready to roll on something. Like I’m ready to hack that thing and really go after it. But I really didn’t feel that way until two months ago. It took me some time to sort of wind down and, and and and relax a little bit and then sort of wind back up.
Bronson: Absolutely. Startups can really take it out of you. I’m sure the people watching this will understand that. But if you’re not involved in a startup, it can drain you like few things in the universe can. Yeah. Well, let’s talk about your past a little bit. You really are a true serial entrepreneur. And according your blog, here’s your track record so far. And I love this quote. It says, You’ve been a co-founder of four companies in the past ten years. Two VC backed, one angel backed, one bootstrapped, two acquired, one shut down, one to be determined. Yeah, I like that you have such a broad experience because I really want to get into your head and try to figure out how you see marketing kind of big picture. You’re going to have a perspective that a first time CMO is not going to have because you’ve seen it. You’ve been there as a founder, as a CMO, you’ve seen it with VC, with Bootstrap, with angel money. You have a lot more experience kind of pull from. So let me ask you a few questions that, you know, you can kind of pull from that experience to answer. How do you think marketing has evolved in the past decade, specifically within your ventures? What was it like from the first one into the last one in August? You said, how different is it now?
Brian: And that’s a that’s a big question. And I guess one thing I should add to that is my past companies have been you know, I’ve done both B2B as well as B2C. I’ve done three technologies, sort of one brick and mortar. So it’s so it’s certainly varied across the board. But in terms of what’s changed in the past decade, I guess let’s break it up into a couple that well, let’s first talk a little bit macro. We must break it up into a couple of different pieces. I think a macro and a macro level, we’ve we’ve gone at least in this startup ecosystem, we’ve gone we went through this period where we had this mantra of product is everything. And a lot of that was caused by sort of putting kind of Facebook and Twitter and others on a pedestal and say, hey, if you build a great product, people will come. And it was weird because like I always like stood on the sidelines of that stuff and looked at it and said like, I don’t know, like, you know, I kind of think distribution is pretty important.
Bronson: They call me crazy, but yeah.
Brian: And, and so I think that, you know, especially over the last year, as you know, and it’s being caused by a number of things, is that I think the pendulum is definitely has has swung back in the other direction of from this product is everything to you know oh oh crap distribution is important too and. I think this is why we see sort of the terms like growth hacker and things like what you guys are doing becoming very important. And and so I think just from a macro perspective of what we’ve seen of change, I think we’ve definitely seen that change. So I guess, like, let’s break it down a little bit. So on the consumer side, I might but people might not agree with me here, but I actually don’t think much has changed when you really think about it. So I think in consumer technology, it’s just been very cyclical and it’s been cyclical around the evolution of new channels. And so the specific techniques around those channels have certainly changed. But from a macro perspective, it really hasn’t. So we go through this cycle of a new channel like Facebook, a launch, and then out of the consumer categories, the really common one is, you know, online dating, gaming, travel, communication, whatever it might be. You always see a new wave of startups that that pop up and they pop up because they are riding the back of this new channel. And so they’re I think, you know, it’s always been about the same thing of like look at look at what the new channels are. Build your product to integrate well with whatever that new channel is and sort of ride that wave. And I think we’re going to continue to see that. You know, we just saw this wave go through with mobile. I think a lot of low hanging fruit has been taking up mobile. And eventually we’ll see a whole nother new platform pop up. Who knows what it will be, but we’ll see a whole new wave that that same wave happen again. B2B, I think is different. In the B2B. I think we’re seeing a lot bigger changes where, you know, the past couple of years where we’ve seen this whole trend of like consumerization for the enterprise, it’s dramatically changed, like what a CMO and what a marketing team does in a beat at the environment where they’re using consumer techniques to basically get their foot in the door and then they use like an inside sales team to close. And so this isn’t that as enable B2B to do a few things. One, it’s made inside sales teams far more efficient than our our predecessors. It’s made sales cycle smaller. And as a result of those two things, you end up being able to both scale faster as well as attack a lower price point, which opens up different pieces of the market. And so you’ve seen you’ve just I think you’ve seen B2B evolve a ton. And I would look at, you know, startups that are doing it really well are, you know, guys like New Relic and Developer Tool Space, you know, HubSpot. Oh my God. Like HubSpot has done an amazing job at it. And, and so, so like I said, I think in the beat of be we we’ve, you know, it’s it’s it’s changed very, very dramatically to what we saw ten years ago. Yeah.
Bronson: What you’re saying, I think, is really insightful and honestly, I’ve never really thought about it that way because, you know, in the nineties and early 2000 when you sold it to the Enterprise, there was all this psychology about how high up on the on the food chain do you go? How do you break in? How do you make a sale? And there was all this like, you know, best practices around that. But now you really do see the consumerization of IT and it’s kind of a bottom up you can get in. You know, Dropbox is being using the Enterprise on accident because people are bringing it into the enterprise, things like that. Right. So at Smart what and you also said with the the consumer to consumer stuff how there’s just a new channel, people jump on it, they figure out how to integrate with it. Do you think that there’s always going to be a new channel? Because, you know, I look at Facebook and it feels like, you know, the ads are performing less and less. Well, you know, I look at Twitter and it’s like eventually I’m going to feel that way about Twitter in a couple of years. Like the ad is just it’s not going to give me the ROI that I wanted. And then at some point it’s like, is there enough room for another Twitter, another Facebook, another anything? I mean, at some point do we just run our channels? And then all the marketers are sitting around just stuck having nowhere to go? What do you think?
Brian: I felt less about that and more about a different problem, which worries me more actually as an entrepreneur. So what you see is it with. So let’s focus on a single channel. You see the channel evolve. So you have this macro cycle, right? And then within each channel there is sort of this mini cycle where at first you’ll see basically, you know, the big companies, the category companies, the travel, the dating, the communication, the gaming, like I said, and, and, you know, the first wave of them tend to be like spammy type startups. So people remember the early days of Facebook, all of the quiz and, you know, the really early Facebook games. Right. And they get a bunch of traction. And but but but then a new category emerges. So basically, the the space starts to get too crowded and the acquisition costs start to go up. And so it starts to price them out of the market. And so you end up with a new wave of startups that tend to build deeper, more engaging products that focus on the general audience and so that they can support these like higher acquisition costs. And so and in the Facebook world, that was things like Zynga and gaming and Zoosk and dating, right? Things of that nature. And then after that, since that brings up the acquisition costs even more, people look to how to compete and so they end up looking at niches. And so when you focus on a very targeted segment, you tend to be able to go much deeper or monetize much higher and therefore support the acquisition cost that way. And so in Facebook, we saw that in social gaming with guys like Kickstarter and Kabam, which focused on the mid core market that monetize much higher and they could outcompete Zynga on Facebook ads and stuff like that. And then after that you see sort of people look to compete even more and so and then they move to like international borders and so they focus on international countries and stuff where, where there might be not as much competition.
Brian: So this cycle plays out, whether it’s Facebook or whether it’s mobile or like let’s go like way back in, like, just like the early like internet and there was just like a wide open world. But this cycle, the thing that worries me is that that I’m observing is that every time a new channel evolves, that cycle is becoming shorter and shorter. And so as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to be like crazy fast, right? You’ve got to be crazy fast to jump on to these opportunities and take advantage of them before everything gets before all of the advantage kind of gets competed away. Yeah. So that’s the thing that I’ve been worried about most, whether there’s, you know, you know, whether there’s going to be more channels and stuff, that’s hard to say. I mean, I kind of look at history and say, you know, you know, I think we probably would have rolled back like five or six years. We probably would have been asking ourselves the same question. And now in hindsight, like, we look completely dumb. Yeah. So my guess is, is that, you know, just that the changing landscape of like new devices and new hardware and new screens and, you know, maybe it’s Google Glass or maybe it’s something else, right? There’s probably.
Branson: Not. Who knows?
Brian: I would I would more place my bet on there’s going to be a new channel and be more concerned about how quickly I have to move as an entrepreneur to really take advantage of it.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s awesome advice for anybody listening to this. Another thing I’m kind of interested to pick your brain about is because you’ve had angel money, because you’ve been bootstrapped and because you’ve accepted VC money. How does that change the game in terms of customer acquisition? When you have VC money, is it just ten X easier or is it really the same thing you’re doing? I mean, I want it because I haven’t had it from both perspectives. Is it easier vs money or no?
Brian: Yeah. It is hard no matter what you do. I think VCs give you VC money, helps you in a couple of directions. So, um, so first of all, you have to assume that you’re operating in a big enough market, solving a big enough problem. When you have the money, it helps you in two ways. At the earliest stages, it basically helps you learn faster so you can spend money on profitably for the sake of getting users in the system to learn about other things that are more important, like retention and virality and monetization, which is going. Those things are going to inform you about what your long term growth strategy is going to be. And so bootstrapping, that’s very, very difficult to do. But with easy money, it helps you sort of do that. So so that’s a big advantage of being money at the earliest age in the later stages. It typically solves this cash flow problem that you run into. So at the earliest stages, startups typically recover their acquisition costs on a per user basis in about three months or less. That’s actually what I would look for in a business. But over time, you know, you you people acquire all the low hanging fruit out of the market and you typically need to spend more money to keep growing to increase your market size. So the time to recover those acquisition costs ends up becoming longer and longer as you grow a business. And you can see that now, like Salesforce, for example, they spend about a year or a year and a half. It takes a year, year and a half to to to recover their costs. That’s fine. They’ve got the cash to basically be able to fund those acquisition costs and sell that cash flow problems into. They know that their LTV is like a few years or more. And so I think that’s where Cash really helps you. And then if you don’t have the money in those later stages, you’re sort of restricted to the market that you the piece of the market that allows you to recover costs in a quick enough manner that you don’t have cash flow problems. So I think that’s where the place to start. It definitely helps. But I would I wouldn’t call it a ten year. It’s you know, it’s any business is hard to figure out how to grow aggressively.
Bronson: Yeah. Would you ever bootstrap again after being an air and after having VC money, or is it just a much better path, in your opinion?
Brian: You know, I tend to look I tend to look at it the other way. And I would suggest this to entrepreneurs, because I know there’s some people who are kind of maniacal about bootstrapping and I actually don’t.
Branson: Becomes a religion.
Brian: If it does become a religion and they and they sort of tout these things that like I don’t want to give control away of my business and, like, I don’t want to deal with these assholes, right? Mm hmm. The fact of the matter is, is if you raise money correctly from the right people, it can be a phenomenal experience. It’s just and so I just look at that as excuses. But I would actually say, don’t worry about that. I would say for entrepreneurs like figure out an idea or a problem that they’re really in love with and then back into, you know, and be honest with yourself about what is the best way to build and grow this business. Because I think a lot of people aren’t aren’t in both directions. Like some people fall in love with this concept and then they do fall in love with, you know, the, the, the vanity of raising money and stuff. And they try to fit those two together when they when it might be a great problem in a great business, but it might not be a venture capital backed business. And it works the other way, too, right? Like some people try to bootstrap something that they should just probably raise money for. So that’s kind of how I look at it. I think most of the ideas that I’m considering now are definitely ones that are better suited for raising some capital. But that just tends to be kind of where my mind sort of wanders at the moment.
Bronson: Yeah, I love how balanced your view on it is. You don’t decide what you’re going to do before you actually understand the entire endeavor. You have to understand like, what is it going to take to pull this off and then just make wise decisions at every turn not coming into it already predetermined. I know the way it has to be. I think that’s good advice for any entrepreneur. Yeah. Let’s now give some actionable advice that’ll be able to help our audience a little bit, because the people come to these interviews, they want to learn from specific things you’ve done in the past, especially somebody like you that has so much experience. What’s been some of your biggest wins in terms of customer acquisition or growth? And maybe you can’t give, you know, exact numbers. You know, I know a lot of, you know, India is floating around and whatnot. But what are some of the things that you’ve done where you said, I want to do this, you did it. It worked out extremely well and maybe we can learn from that.
Brian: Yeah, well, I mean, at some historic so like growth is just so specific to businesses that they might not be able to learn. Exactly. And I can talk to.
Bronson: They’re still interested, I promise.
Brian: Yeah. I’ll tell you a few stories of different degrees. So my first story, my first company ever, was a college specific social network before Facebook and MySpace existed, and there was a ton of those. So we were like one of 100 stories and and, you know, at that time I knew nothing, like how I was just I was dumb. I was 90 and I was making every mistake in the book and we were trying to figure out how to, you know, grow users and all that kind of stuff. And at one point I think we just decided to get our hands dirty and go brute force. And there was like one night on our college campuses, University of Michigan, where we just plastered the campus sidewalks, filling ever lecture hall with, uh, uh, with like fliers. A number like a student cannot get to their class without seeing your name at least three times. Yeah. And in the first 12 hours of doing that, we had like 1500 users. And so we basically got in our cars and drove around to all of the college campuses in the Midwest and repeated that over and over and over again. And with that technique, I think we got to like 30 got 30,000 users in 30 days and back then, which right now with like the Facebook platform and stuff is a totally but back in 2003 that was pretty, pretty great. So yeah, the big lesson from that is. You know, I tell people is like in the earliest stages sometimes don’t be afraid to use brute force. And like, you know, not everything has to be, you know, Facebook viral growth. Right? Like, you’re just really looking for track traction in there. So so this 32nd story was VIX Ammo, which was a social gaming distribution platform. So we basically took games that worked really well on Facebook and we distributed to about 20 different international sites, and that’s what we evolved into. That’s how we started out. And there, you know, we grew that from zero to tens of millions of users across our gaming network in less than a year. And we did that through two methods. We did it through first partnerships. So we partnered with all of these sites and we brought something very valuable to them, which was high quality monetizing games that they couldn’t get on their own. And then second, we did B2C optimization techniques on all of the different sites. So putting the sites on the economy, games on the sites would get us a certain flow of users and then we would optimize it to get even more users. The amazing story about that was we went from nothing to like a couple million dollars in run rate, yearly run rate in like 48 hours. And this was after trying like five or six different sites. And all of a sudden we had just we combined the right game with the right site and it just it just like went off. And, you know, from that experience, I really learned like, you know, I think we weren’t as methodical about the combination testing between games and sites that we could have been. We kind of just got lucky if we would have been more methodical about it. I think we would have learned much quicker about what works and what didn’t work and and been able once we found like what works, we were able to repeat it over and over again. So there’s the second. And then the third was, you know, boundless, basically developed a free alternative to students, like $200 textbooks. And the big lesson from this is that big numbers and volume is not always sort of the big win. And so our big challenge in the early stages of this was like they were alternatives for like about three college textbooks and there’s thousands of different college textbooks. So we had to be super, super targeted with our money, in our resources to target students that we knew we had an alternative for. And the big win in that was that we had we got, you know, in the first couple of weeks, we had probably about 10,000 targeted users that it was like searching for needles in a haystack. That was like a combination of two things is that we selected our channels correctly, right? Which so we used medium and long tail search techniques that where we could get really targeted. And once again, I went back to my brute force days from my earliest days and we did a lot of on campus marketing. We would actually research two classes that we knew had the books that we had alternatives for and target specific classes. And so I think I think in that case, once again, it’s like, you know, it’s not necessarily about big numbers, but it’s about like who you’re getting in the door as well. And that comes down to selecting animals very, very wisely.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s that’s incredible actionable advice. I mean, that’s the kind of stuff that people need to hear. And there’s different ways to attack it. There’s different things that work. Let me ask you this. You’re an angel investor. When somebody comes to you with a, you know, an idea, which I’m sure happens often, what do you look at when you consider the growth potential? Because I know that’s the way you’re eyeing it up as a CMO kind of guy, you’re thinking, all right, does this thing have potential or is it pie in the sky? Are you looking at the CMO or are you looking at the founder? Are you looking at the market or are you looking at the traction they already have? Is it a combination of all those? What kind of key metrics really get your attention when you’re looking at a possible investment?
Brian: Yeah, I mean, I think it really depends on the stage. So I think at the earliest stages, like for angel type stuff, you know, I’m not looking at any sort of metrics or anything. You know, most angel deals, you’re really taking a bet on the team in the market and the rough concept, any quote unquote traction that they have. Yeah, it doesn’t more more than that. It doesn’t imply growth. You know, so and there’s a big difference between traction and growth, which explains it. Um, so, uh, so, so in the earliest days of a startup, you’re, you’re never looking for growth. You’re looking for traction. And, and in traction what you’re optimizing for, it’s less about optimization and more about just establishing a steady stream of users and customers into your product so that you can. Figure out the other variables in the growth equation, which are things like activation, retention, referral, lifetime value, stuff like, you know, things of that nature. And the big thing is, is that there’s a lot of different ways to get traction, you know, press, you know, doing blog post, guest blog posts, you know, using like alternative advertising channels like Reddit. You know, some of the groups I was talking about, like in-person marketing. But the fact is, is that there are only very few scalable growth channels. There’s really not there search, there’s display, there’s Facebook, there’s viral slash, word of mouth. How you run a bucket that and their sales that’s you know that’s pretty much the only scalable channels press is not a scalable.
Bronson: It’s not radar it doesn’t scale.
Brian: It’s a blip on the radar. So at some point you’ve got to figure out how to play in one of those five channels. Um, but you don’t necessarily have to figure out that out right at the beginning. There’s lower cost, lower techniques that you can use to get traction. So and then so once you’re at the growth stage, you can take all of these, you know, you should now have from your traction phase, like basically hypotheses around all of the variables in your growth equation. Right? So you should have an equation, actual written out equation and you can take those, you can take those hypotheses around these different variables and start to basically optimize the resource allocation that you put against increasing these variables and within these growth channels to I hope hopefully that makes sense. But there there are two completely different phases of the company. And I guess the lowest bar you could say that probably people would say is that traction is a product market, that growth is post product market fit. I think that’s simplifying it a little too much, but that’s probably the best and easiest bar to sort of exploit difference here.
Bronson: And you say that it helps. My understanding, I mean, I’m learning as you speak right now because I model the to traction becomes grows, grows becomes traction you know that kind of stuff. But what you just said, I think, makes perfect sense and it’s probably one of the clearest ways I’ve heard it put.
Brian: So, so just in addition to that. So I think through Trinity and some other and through Angel deals, I get a lot of guys coming in saying, you know, we’re ready to grow this thing. Right? And I’ll ask him a couple of questions about their retention and monetization and realize there’s huge holes in the grant in the grand equation of things. And we’ve seen this like look at startups like video, right? Like Hey, hey, growth way too soon. And they, they peaked and they crashed and that’s because they didn’t have the other pieces of their growth strategy, their growth funnel figured out before they turned down that growth machine or Facebook turned it on for them. So and so hopefully they recover and they figure it out and all that type of stuff. But you’ve got a, you know, yeah, there’s a time for there’s a time for traction and there is a time for growth. And I think they’re two very different things.
Bronson: And the traction seems to really be a learning phase. You can figure out what you need to know so that the growth doesn’t kill you, but it enables you.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. And that kind of leads to a couple of the the last questions I have here being at Trinity Ventures, I’m sure you see a lot of startups make a lot of the same mistakes. It’s probably deja vu all over again for you see in the start you see what are some of the biggest mistakes that you see them habitually make? You kind of already mentioned one is, you know, they hit growth or want to hit growth when there’s big holes in their monetization and retention strategy. Are there any other things that come to mind is just over and over. You see this with startups?
Brian: Yeah, there’s a few things that I feel like I repeat on a weekly basis, but so the traction versus growth is a great one. The fact that there’s very few scalable growth channels is another one. And I think the other thing is that growth, you know, a lot of people, hopefully people with this video, if you’re not familiar with Dave McClure’s, you know, marketing for pirates, right? Picturing that funnel of acquisition activation, retention, revenue, referral, you know, once again, like a lot of people think about growth hacking growth user acquisition as that top funnel, that acquisition piece, like how do I get more people in the top of the funnel? Yeah. And, and growth is really about looking at the whole funnel holistically. And that’s why the best growth guys typically teams typically tend to be a mix between a product manager and a marketer. And, and, and the reason is, is because most businesses like, really like. Big businesses. They don’t they don’t tend to build their long term sustainable advantage at the acquisition piece of the funnel. Mm hmm. If we go back to our earlier conversation about those cycles. Right. Any technique or channel that you find at that top of the funnel over time will be competed away. And so if if that’s where you’re competing in the grand scheme of things, you’re playing this game of I’ve got to continue to find, you know, more and more, you know, new techniques and nobody else knows about it that I can exploit and that that’s not it. So most businesses actually find a way to monetize their customers better than their competitors or retain them longer or activate them at a much higher rate. And when you do that, it changes. It has like an equal effect and you basically change that CPA to LTV equation in your favor and building sort of sustainable advantages that those pieces in the funnel, it’s a lot stronger than content in trying to find whatever the new technique or whole in the acquisition space is. So that’s definitely one. And I think another thing is that, you know, in part of the reason that kind of just like the term growth hack but you.
Bronson: Can hate on it that’s fine.
Brian: Yeah is is I think hacked is some is a lot of time is misunderstood it’s misunderstood it’s misunderstood as like I’m like shooting from the hip and it’s this like magical creative process. And, you know, I’m just like throwing things together and sort of seeing what works without any sort of methodical thinking and and growth is the complete opposite of all of that. I hate to tell people, but some people, when I say that planned it kind of is right like and there’s there’s there’s really three steps of it, right? There’s, you know, this framework of looking at growth as a full funnel item. Then there’s know starting to establish the growth equation, which is about figuring out the variables in your business that you can sort of optimize and tweak that have sort of big impact on on your long term. And that’s different for every single business. And then the third is how you establish a process and like a regular rhythm of, you know, listing out all of the things you want to test. And each one of those tests is correlated with a specific variable in that equation. Mm hmm. And and tracking sort of the results of all of those tests, just like an engineering process of, like, developing features. Right. It’s it’s a very methodical process of, you know, going through this list of things against the variables that you think you have the biggest impact. So so, you know, that’s what I warn against. It’s like, you know, it’s never it’s never this hack is all of a sudden going to change the game of your business. And I think a lot of times it’s position like that in the press, but usually it starts off with a deeper question and not like, how do we grow? But it’s like, how do we, you know, optimize this one variable better, right? And then that question leads to here are the ideas for product features are different things that might might help with that type of stuff. And then I think the last thing is just be focused like, well, I think I, you know, I like to hear is when a startup comes to me and says, I ask them, how are they going to grow? And they list out five different channels to me. And the reality of the situation is, is that. Diversifying yourself across five different channels is is sort of a death sentence. And there’s so much you can do in one channel in terms of strategy and optimization and copy testing and all that kind of stuff that that you’ve got to be very diligent about evaluating the channel and choosing and prioritizing it, you know, your strong hypotheses rather than trying to spread yourself thin and try like seven at once and optimize all seven at once. So be focused. The reality the situation is, is that most startups, you know, 80% of their growth is from one channel. Zynga was Facebook, Groupon was email, TripAdvisor research. Right. And it’s just you know, it’s very rare that you’ll come across a business where they’ve you know, their growth has come equally from three or more different channels. There’s usually one predominant one. So figure out that one is and, you know, focus like a hawk.
Bronson: Absolutely. I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those interviews that people are going to watch over and over just to dissect it, hear it again, really figure it out. Because I feel like in response to every question you’ve given us really insight into exactly the way we need to be thinking about growth, about CMO is about that kind of thing. So let me end with this. It’s been an incredible interview. What advice would you give to someone trying to break into growth, trying to become a CMO or trying to grow a startup? Where should they begin? Should they get an internship? Should they just start something and learn as they go? Should they have one specific skill set they really master? And if so, what is it? Where would you tell somebody to begin if they’re the 19 year old Brian? What where should they start?
Brian: That’s a good question. That’s a great question. So I think, you know, if if you look at some of the great, you know, growth guys and CMO’s and stuff, they tend to be all shaped like a T at the letter T. So they they’re really deep. They go really deep on like one or two channels and then they’re sort of broad and like understand the mechanics across all of the other ones. And so become like once again, just like, you know, trying to diversify their business across five different channels and optimize for all of them at once. Optimizing yourself across five different channels is really, really hard. So my, my best suggestion is, you know, pick the one or two channels that you think you might be really interested in. And probably the best is, you know, you can probably either pick something very established like search, which, you know, will be around for forever, or you can take a bet on something that’s emerging like, like mobile that’s such a massive changing landscape right now, like getting in early and really understanding that from an early process might be very valid, but pick those one or two channels and try to go really deep on it, but then take the time to understand sort of the broad surface, little level like, you know, other pieces. So in those other pieces are things like like copywriting and basic statistics and math as well as, you know, what, what are the differences, the advantages and disadvantages of the varying channels? Because most CMO’s what’ll happen is, you know, you’ll start off small in a small company, you know, the CMO will be very tactical and they’ll be focused on that one channel that they’re really deep in. But as the company grows, they’ll bring in precise experts to grow into some of those other channels. And that CMO isn’t actually tactically doing it, but they need to understand it from from a broader perspective. So some good, you know, get inside a company that’s, you know, that’s fast growing, that’s very metrics focused. You know, some of the best places to learn are actually lead generation companies. These guys these guys are always on the bleeding, even though some of them hit the gray areas. In terms of business tactics, they are always on the bleeding edge of the latest techniques, and they’re very mathematical. Most of them are operating on extremely slim margins. And so that can be a great place to learn. And or, you know, there’s there’s growth teams forming and startups everywhere. You know, I would look specifically for those types of roles, but, you know, make sure whoever is sort of leading that team, it’s just like anything like you’re going to learn more if you’ve got a phenomenal teacher. So focus more on the teacher than the actual startup. So I think that’s the basic stuff and there’s so much information coming out about this stuff now through like, you know, programs like. Yes. And just like I dig and dig on Quora and CEO Mars does a ton of like really interesting data analysis and they do a ton of stuff. And then sorry, one last thing. I know I’m rambling.
Bronson: As long as you want. It’s good stuff coming out.
Brian: One of the one of the best things that I’ve ever done is establish a I established a growth group. So basically when I was in Boston, we myself and another friend got together some of the best user acquisition and CMO types. Small, private. And I wasn’t meant to be a big thing. The point was to establish honesty and trust, and we basically use that group and once a month somebody would come with the presentation prepared or some things that they had tried in their business. They exposed the data and the metrics, right? Because like the big part about a lot of this stuff is that a lot of this stuff is so data and a lot of time is very private stuff and so it’s very hard to get people to open up about it. But establishing that small group of trusted people who are also like testing and playing around with all of this stuff is one of the best ways to learn and get like the inside track on things that you might not have time to try out. So that is that’s one of the other probably I probably learned the most from those go across groups than I have from anything else.
Bronson: Well, I’ve never even heard of that before, and that’s such great advice. I’m like, I’m trying to think right now who I can get in my growth group and you know, who I’m going to meet with and what I’m going to talk about. That’s a great idea. Well, Brian, this has been an incredible interview. Again, I know you’re busy. So taking 45 minutes out for us is is really a treat. And the stuff you said is gold today for anybody paying attention. So thank you again, Brian.
Brian: Yeah. And if anybody wants to ask has questions or wants to email me and just look at my website is Brian Billboard.com. My contact info is on there. Feel free to reach out. I’d be happy to help.
Bronson: Absolutely. And right below this interview will be all your links and a little bio about Brian. So right below his interview will be persistent links. Click on those. Go find out more about him and follow up with him. As you can see, he knows quite a bit. Thanks again, Brian.
Brian: All right. Thank you. Have a good one.
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