Episodes

Zack Onisko

Zack Onisko

Zack is the VP of Growth at Creative Market, but he’s had quite a career working for fast-growing startups. In this episode, he talks about the dark side of scaling fast, how he utilizes A/B tests, the role of KPIs, and what he is currently doing to grow Creative Market.

TOPIC ZACK COVERS

  • Tickle was one of the first viral things on the internet.
  • He joined the company as employee 20 in 2003
  • Tickle won the Webby award for a fastest growing startup before Zack joined
  • He chose to join Tickle instead of going to Silverstein
  • Tickle’s secret sauce was creating a viral loop by using friends as a way to get more users
  • Tickle also had a good understanding of how to use social networks to drive growth
  • He was originally a designer but learned to design around analytics
  • The marketing team was very metrics-driven and spent $1.5 – $2 million a month on marketing
  • The goal was to get a dollar back for every dollar spent on marketing
  • And a whole lot more

LINKS & RESOURCES

WATCH THE INTERVIEW

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READ THE TRANSCRIPTION

Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Zack on this show with us. Zack, thanks for coming on the program.

Zack: Thanks for having me.

Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. Now, Zack, you are the VP of growth at Creative Market and formerly you were the head of growth at Branch Out. And even before that you were with Tickle as one of the early members there. So I think we’ll start with Tickle and then kind of work our way forward eventually getting to your current role of creative market. So let’s go back to Tickle. Tickle was one of the earliest viral things on the Internet. Is that right?

Zack: Yeah. Yeah.

Bronson: Yeah. I mean, so you get to be there at the ground level.

Zack: Yeah, I think I was employee 20 or so. I came on in about 2003. They came out to San Francisco in 2000. So, you know, six months before I came on, they just won the Webby Award for fastest growing startup. And so it was a really fun place to come on. I had a choice of taking the job. They’re going to go could be Silverstein, which is, you know, agency world. And I chose Startup World and I’m really glad I took that path. So yeah, that’s awesome.

Bronson: So what was the secret sauce there at Tickle? We’ve had James Curry on the program before and he walked us through some of the pieces of it. But I’m interested from an employee point of view, what was it that they did or what is it they learned before everyone else learned it?

Zack: Well, I think that, you know, the timing was right. You know, they just raised some money right after the the dot com boom or bust. And and so it’s kind of, you know, dog eat dog and you had to get scrappy. And so that, you know, forced us to look at other ways to to grow that other sites weren’t weren’t doing it. And and we became just really, really good at it really fast. I mean, it also helped that we had this all star cast of of people working at the company. You know, James Currier was CEO. But, you know, my my boss at Agile was co-founder of Tech, Rick Marini. Stange of Natsuki was CTO there. Otis Chandler, CEO of Good Reads, was there, Michael Birch from Bebo. So there’s a lot of really, really smart people there, but they it was a great environment to learn.

Bronson: Yeah. And it seems like you guys, you know, early on, you really focused on things like psychology, you know, user psychology and what they’re doing and why they’re doing it and focus on a B testing. Walk us through some of that a little bit. What are you guys doing to actually move the needle there?

Zack: Yeah. So, I mean, originally, you know, when I took the job, I was I was originally a designer. I went to school for design and came on to work with the marketing team to design creative. And, you know, when I first started, I just wanted to make really beautiful, you know, you know, designs. And and what I learned really quickly is that, you know, we were very metrics driven on the marketing team. You know, we were spending, you know, a million and a half, $2 million a month in marketing in 2000, three inches thousand for one of the top marketers on the Internet. So, you know, I’m very metrics driven and really, you know, learned very quickly to design around analytics. And so, you know, every couple days we get together with the with the marketing guys and we look over the metrics and, you know, look at what worked and what didn’t work and decide why. And, you know, you quickly see patterns and some of the stuff that we’re doing and we just started optimizing. And so, you know, we were able to get, you know, higher click through rates and and and make online marketing work. Every dollar we spent, we would make sure that we would get a dollar back and and that that worked really well for us.

Bronson: Yeah. Was that a hard transition for you going from the pure design world to the analytics informed design world? Because I’m a designer as well and like I know that beautiful things don’t always convert. And that’s hard for me. It’s hard for me to reconcile the two.

Zack: You know, it’s honestly still a struggle. I, I have to put on different hats and kind of separate the two things because, you know, I have this this hardcore appreciation for beautiful things and beautiful design. And I also have this hardcore appreciation for, for growth and virality and, and user psychology and going after what works. So sometimes the most beautiful thing is not what works. So, you know, sometimes have to separate those two. It’s I try as hard as I can to make sure when those two worlds collide that we’re doing the best of both worlds. But sometimes it’s, you know, the tests speak for themselves and, you know, ugly buttons might get more clicks.

Bronson: Yeah. There you go. Exactly. So kind of looking back, I, I was 23. That was ten years ago. I mean, that’s a lifetime ago almost. But looking back at tickle and kind of your your first, you know, peek into analytics and, you know, just how products are built around that kind of mentality. What’s been like the main takeaway that you kind of pull from that typical experience of that era? You’ve kind of rolled into everything else you’ve done. Is it just that analytics matter? Is there anything deeper than that?

Zack: I think it’s you know, James was a great teacher. We’d have weekly stand ups. And it wasn’t just a bunch of geeks, you know, experimenting in a dark corner, like with the whole company was involved and it was learning together. So I think that was really helpful in and escalated my career and in getting more knowledge a lot faster than I can get anywhere else because we were doing it. And and so, you know, the main takeaways were just lessons around networks, network effect and just, you know, that viral growth in those viral loops and what we can do to optimize, you know, conversions. And, you know, at the surface it’s, you know, the stuff that we were doing in 2003 is not very much different from what we’re doing today. It’s the same stuff, the same psychology, the same, you know, the channels have changed and, you know, some some rules have changed, but for the most part, it’s all the same stuff.

Bronson: So and towards the end of the interview, I think we’re going to get into more of the the details of that sort of stuff. So that’s good. I’m glad to hear that. You know, that was kind of where you got to cut your teeth, it seems like. Do you recommend that people get in at the ground level of a rocket ship as kind of the best way to learn? Do you think that’s the best way to learn analytics growth or is there some other path that you’ve seen others take that probably work out better?

Zack: So I think it’s different for each person and in each company. I mean, it’s hard to find that rocket ship. You know, I don’t think that, you know, if you’re employee 20, you, you know, the company’s probably not at a size where you can predict that it’s going to take off and will be, you know, 80 people and six months or a year from then. So it’s it’s it’s hard to predict, but I think that doing startups in general forces you to be aware. Growth and marketing and just SEO and just everything that that helps your business grow is something that you might not touch or get introduced to at a larger company where you’re just giving up certain tasks. So one of the brilliant things about working at a startup is that you can wear all these different hats.

Bronson: Yeah, no, I think that’s a great point. And that’s one of the reasons I love startups, is because I get to do so many different things. I get to learn about so many different industries, and you almost are forced to not be too niche. You have to broaden yourself somewhat just to survive. So I like that. Now, after Tickle, eventually you ended up being a part of the founding team at Branch Out. So tell us about Branch Out a little bit. What was that?

Zack: So so Branch out is professional network. We actually started the company five years ago. It was we went through a couple of different transitions. It’s actually a music social network to to start and we, you know, we did social gaming for a while, we did contracting work and then it kind of turned into branch out along the way and and branch out basically as a, a virtual network for sharing everything with your coworkers, your friends and coworkers in a public or private way. So that’s a.

Bronson: And in this branch out live on Facebook is it in the Facebook ecosystem only.

Zack: It was so originally we were strictly just a Facebook app. So we were the biggest professional network on Facebook. And we last year we made the decision to bust out of the Facebook canvas and pull it out on destination site. And now they are you know, you can you can authenticate with with Gmail and emails on the way. But, you know, it was it was a Facebook app for a long time.

Bronson: Yeah. And so tell us what kind of growth you guys experience there, because it’s kind of phenomenal, the stats around this. Oh, what sort of growth did you guys see there?

Zack: Yeah, it was it was 90. So, you know, summer of 2011, we we first started experimenting with some some gross stuff. And I was heading up product at the time and and, you know, part of the product you’re kind of coming up with, with there’s, there’s multiple things that you’re looking at. And part of that is the A-B testing, the analytics. We had a good summer. We tried out some things, but we hit a plateau. We reached about two and a half, 3 million users. And we weren’t really seeing that, that, you know, that that that growth that we really wanted to get to. And so in December, I sat down with Rick and we we decided that we’re going to carve out a growth team that was just going to concentrate on HIV testing, analytics, and working on features that were going to move the needle. Mm hmm. And so, you know, we we spent a big part of January looking at the different third party analytic. Suites up there because we we built out our own analytics system, but it was kind of a work in progress and it wasn’t going to get to the point that we needed to be at soon enough. So we ended up bringing Mixpanel on board and then we also started, we also brought an optimize, which was also a big key to the success. And then we also built out our own testing tools internally for for email and also for the Facebook channels. But and then, you know, in fact, when we started putting that stuff to work and and in 90 days, we basically grew from about 4 million users to 5 million users.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s incredible. One of the stats I saw is a 500% to 90 days. Is that right? Yeah.

Zack: Yeah.

Bronson: Yeah. That’s crazy. All right. So that’s why you have to walk us through. So you get this growth team, all right? Because we can’t skip over this. This is the lead right here. So you get the growth team together. You know, you guys are the SEAL Team six. You know, you you go into a dark room somewhere and you start, you know, planning domination. What are the meetings look like or the or the ideas that are being thrown around? Like what was the path to get there?

Zack: Yeah. So, you know, one of the things that we decided early on and we actually got a lot of pushback internally and we just kind of had to keep moving in this direction was that we just wanted to make sure that the team could work autonomously outside of all the other product features that we wanted to build on the on the main product roadmap.

Bronson: Why is that important to you? Why that matter?

Zack: Well, one that we needed to release faster, the main site was releasing once a week, maybe twice a week. And we need to release basically on a daily basis to get all these. We’re at such a volume that we were getting test winners, rapid pace. We need to push those live. And the test on top of those. Mm hmm. So it’s important to move faster, but also just to focus on growth. So, you know what? The main product roadmap could have growth in that list, but also, you know, all these other remarketing features, there could be like accounting features. It can be like, you know, all these other, you know, features that would be awesome to have. But we decided we wanted silos so that we could just grow a lot faster. And so what that, what that looked like on a so well we started out was like a weekly meeting and that kind of turned into a daily meeting. Every morning we’d get together and we just prioritize what we wanted to do and, and we aimed to move the needle every day, really. And we wanted to build something, test something that would make a difference that day, not a week. So it’s very aggressive, but but it works really well when you can focus that intensely. And so what happened was that, you know, we do a lot of testing, you know, so where we actually focused was on the right path. So the registration part, so an invite gets sent to a friend, you know, what is the copy in that? And we tested probably 200 variations of that invite. Copy. Mm hmm. That’s one of the testing tools that we built internally when the when the user lands. What’s that first experience? What happens when that user lands? We tested, you know, a ton of variations and just that step. And then, you know, along that registration path, you know, we asked users to fill out the profile. We invite their friends, we ask people to all these different of all these different steps. And, you know, originally there was like eight steps. And and by the time we optimized it, we had moved it down to two steps or maybe three steps.

Bronson: Yeah. So, so just focus on the registration path. That was kind of the bulk of your energy.

Zack: So that was like the first step was to take those big pieces and move those around and see how that can optimize. And then from there, we optimized a more, more focused optimizations that things like copy and text color and like, like I mentioned, the request copy mattered a lot. So we were able to make huge strides in testing in that copy, which is, I mean, Facebook doesn’t give you control of anything except that copy. And, you know, it’s a little tiny, you know, 1% increases every day that that compound over time and add up.

Bronson: Yeah. So. So are you guys really short in that timeline that allowed you to to see real results so much faster because you’re not waiting months for a few tests to come back?

Zack: Yeah. So, I mean, that’s that’s kind of why it’s really important to focus at a high level at first and just really prioritize the needle movers it once you can get that snowball rolling downhill, things just move a lot faster just because there’s a lot more volume. Yeah. And so once you can kind of get over that hump, then it kind of just. Ghost.

Bronson: Yeah, exactly. Would you recommend other startups kind of prioritize in the same way where they start with really big chunks like the registration flow, you know, just the main pieces that they know every user’s going to go through, every user is going to have to, you know, make decisions in these decisions for these for yes or no and these kind of things. And then get more granular. Do you kind of take that mentality other places and teach other people to do the same thing?

Zack: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s pretty common. You know, you talk to the guys at Optimize who are, you know, be testing experts and that’s that’s the advice they give as well. It’s just you see bigger results when you make really big changes. And then, you know, after you kind of, you know, focus down after those big changes and you get something that’s really fine tuned, like an instrument.

Bronson: So now that’s great. And you’ve you’ve mentioned optimize a few times. I mean, you really believe in that as a product. I mean, it seems to be pretty instrumental with what you do.

Zack: I mean, it’s this a really valuable tool. There’s other tools out there. There’s, you know, Google has one and I’m not sure I think has one and there are others optimized is just, you know, to me the easiest tool to get up and running. You just throw a little snippet on your page and then, you know, with a little bit of Jake where you can actually you can you can drag and drop that. But basically a tool that you can just drag and drop divs around around the page. And so yeah, even marketers with with very little technical knowledge can, can use the product and get tests up and running.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. So, you know, I asked you this about tech and I’m going to ask kind of the same thing about branch out. You know, looking back, what are the main takeaways, you know, as you see your experience there and you’re still involved to some degree, I’m sure, but as we get back, we’re the things that you’re like, All right, I’m going to put that in my tool kit and just remember it forever.

Zack: Yeah, I think the biggest lesson and I mean two parts. Well, first, I’ll just say that getting viral is really hard to do. And so once we started to see that we’re having huge successes, we kind of got a little drunk on it. Mm hmm. And and, I mean, part of that was that we wanted to make sure that we kept growing at the rate we’re growing at. But one of the side effects of growing that fast is that we had scaling issues. So the entire engineering team were putting out fires just all day long. Hmm. Because we’re just growing at such a crazy rate that we just didn’t plan on doing. Yeah. So. So, yeah. One of the things we had to do is we built out this this health metrics thing where we had people around the clock that were checking these, like, key metrics to see if something would break. Could we get to it and fix that issue faster than if like 2 hours or 3 hours went by where there was something broken on the site that could, you know, drop our momentum. So that took a lot of energy for like six months or something, five months where we should have been working on product and product market fit. And there’s a lot of stuff that we kind of took focus off of it to focus on the growth where, you know, so I mentioned that, you know, getting viral is really, really hard. Retention is even harder. So, you know, if you can find that product market fit before you get viral. Mm hmm. You know, it’s it makes things a lot easier. And, you know, you have you know, one of the problems that we had is that we originally product was, you know, it’s a recruiting tool. So, you know, it’s for people to find jobs, but most people only look for jobs every four years or so. So it wasn’t something that people were going back to every day. Yeah. So we. So last year, last summer, we decided that we were going to hit the brakes. We got a little over 30 million users and and we decided that we were just going to stop the growth pulled out some of our our viral loops and decide that we’re going to we’re one. We had to rebuild the entire infrastructure from scratch. Mm hmm. And then we just decided to take another look at the product and see how we can find something that. That brings people back every day in a professional manner.

Bronson: Yeah. So this is, I think, a first for our show here. So you put on the brakes for growth, you took out viral loops because you really wanted to hone in on a product market fit and make sure that was exactly what it needed to be.

Zack: Well, it was scaling issues.

Bronson: Scaling. Okay.

Zack: But that made that decision mainly. But also we we early on saw that we were registering users, which is great because we’re building this database, right. Of potential potential employees that recruiters that could use source candidates and put people to work. So that was that was great. But then we had, you know, 30 million users who weren’t coming back every day or every week. Which is a problem.

Bronson: So no thank you for for being open about that and really let us kind of peek inside of branch out because you know, all we see is the is the growth blog post about how it grew so much. We don’t hear the dark side of it of well, yeah, there were some scaling issues and even prior to that there were some profit issues. And, you know, so that’s what you have to work through when you’re growing. Would you actually have done it differently, though? Because this is the hard question, because, you know, growth is almost a gift. You can’t just manufacture that will. And so it’s hard to say, yeah, we would have reversed how we did it, but then maybe you would. I don’t know.

Zack: So, you know, you know, hindsight is 2020, but I think that, you know, that growth able to raise a large amount of funding and now we have, you know, four or five years of runway and, you know, the where the guys are working right now on a new product direction, I think is going to be a huge hit. And it has that, you know, they’ve done the homework and found the product market fit and and you know, I think that they you know, great team and we could find that growth again so.

Bronson: And now.

Zack: You know I think it’s I think it’s the growth was invaluable for the company. I think that having 30 million email addresses that we can, you know, when we’re ready to bring those people back into a new awesome service that, you know, that’s something that a lot of startups don’t have the benefit of.

Bronson: That’s exactly what I was getting ready to say, is you have 30 million emails and it is so difficult yet 30 million emails. So now, I mean, you know, it’s going to help you find your product market fit for the next thing, you know, using some of those as test cases. And then I have this huge audience to have in-built real, you know, users. So yeah, I think it’s a great way to look at it. So now let’s talk about Creative Market a little bit. You’re currently the VP of Grow the Creative Market. What is Creative Market?

Zack: Yeah, it’s a so it’s a marketplace for buying and selling digital goods. So creators and designers all over the world can upload their their creations and and sell them our marketplace. So we cover the marketing and and the reach and the credit card processing, all that. So basically, we allow designers to create a storefront that enables them to make passive income.

Bronson: Gotcha. Yeah. I was going to ask you what kind of key differentiator is because you’re a designer. I’m a designer. Like, there’s there’s places to go and buy, you know, fonts and images and, you know, whatever you need. So is the difference really that you’re empowering the end user, the designer, to have passive income based on what they do?

Zack: Yeah, I mean, we really just saw a there just wasn’t a central place on online to buy fonts, website templates, WordPress themes, icons, sets, illustrations in the future of photos. So really just one kind of central creative hub is our vision for the company. So that was the concern. And also just like, you know, when you look at a lot of the stock and micro stock sites out there, those companies take a really large percentage of the revenue share. Mm hmm. Well, for an example, some of the other guys.

Bronson: Is actually.

Zack: Sent over the revenue and the. And the creator only gets 20%. So we wanted to flip that over on its head. And so we give the designer 70% and we take 30% to cover our costs.

Bronson: So so, I mean, if you’re creating beautiful things, you really could make passive income. It could become something real.

Zack: Yeah, we just posted a blog post today. College students made $15,000 in his spare time. Just creating the tone of.

Bronson: My old stuff. I’m not really. Oh. So, how long have you been the VP of Growth there?

Zack: I started in February.

Bronson: Okay, so February. March. So you’re a few months in there? Yeah. So, so far. What’s the difference been in growing something like Creative Market as opposed to a branch out or even a tickle? Because now it’s very design oriented. You know, it’s a marketplace like a true marketplace. There’s actually someone making and someone buying, not just need to connect to people. So I’m sure there’s so many differences, but but how do you see the differences and the similarities there?

Zack: Yeah, I think the design element is definitely a huge difference. I mean, that was one of the attractive things that made me join the company is that, you know, my background is in design and you know, I could work on a growth role in a a marketplace for designers. So that was really cool. But it’s also we want to make sure that our design is world class and top notch and that the experiences are just awesome. So it’s definitely a higher bar than a general audience. But the main differences I think is that branch out. You know, our KPI key performance indicators was to focus on. Bringing in daily new users. Our main KPI with the marketplace is revenue. So, you know, we’re also looking at daily visitors and new users and things like, you know, repeat purchases and you know, shopping cart abandonment and metrics like that. And also just the marketplace growth the company sellers will be bringing on per day how many products are being added per day? But at the end of the day, that number one metric is revenue. So I think that is also something that’s really cool is that, you know, we have that that business model on day one that we’re working on built in. And it’s been going great so far.

Bronson: Well, let me ask you this. What do you prefer? Because I’ve been involved in both where, you know, you have runway. It’s just about getting users. And, you know, the dollar sign doesn’t matter yet. Right. And then other times it’s like, you know, all your focus on is just the monetization. What do you enjoy more? I know what I enjoy more.

Zack: You know, I think that that it depends on the company. I think that they their models, you know, it’s two different models. It’s good the political. I think I dig the revenue. But you can have excitement and celebration over reaching goals no matter what they are. And I mean, I think that’s really just what’s it growth no matter what you’re striving for. Like just setting goals are really important, like weekly goals for your team. And then that way, when you reach those goals that you feel like you’re you’re succeeding and you’re climbing that that that mountain. Yeah.

Bronson: So right now, Creative Market, what are your primary strategies? You’ve been there a few months. I’m sure you came in with some ideas. Now you’re probably getting from the strategy to the tactic phase. You’re trying to actually implement some of the stuff, see how it goes. So what is kind of your your thing you’re trying to do to move the needle there?

Zack: Yeah. I mean, you know, honestly, the e-commerce play is a new thing for me. So I’ve been experimenting with with a ton of different stuff. I’ve been learning a ton about SEO. And, you know, we’ve got a lot of talk, a lot of organic traffic just in the last couple of months from our efforts.

Bronson: So tell us a little more detail. What is your SEO efforts?

Zack: So, you know, we’re just trying to be more content marketing, aware of, you know, what our customers are searching for and then, you know, building out blog posts and making sure that, you know, our products are amply named and there’s tags. And, you know, all this global data is associated with with our pages so that when our customers are searching on Google or, you know, a really cool or organic looking WordPress theme or whatever that we come up in those search results. And so, you know, there’s there’s a couple of different approaches is the there’s the long tail approach and there’s a fat head approach. And we’re kind of dabbling in both right now and experimenting and what what’s working. But I would say the big part of that is content marketing, really focusing on on, you know, CEOs kind of, you know, two parts. One, it’s, you know, there’s there’s a bunch of technical optimization things you can do on your side. But then the other side that’s even more valuable is those inbound links. So we’re just doing a lot of like, you know, just to reach out to other people in the design community and also like marketing communities and small business communities and just anyone who could use design assets to grow their business, we’re reaching out to them and asking, you know, you know, doing like tweet trades and blog trades and and things like that. And, and it’s working out pretty well. I mean, it’s just it’s organic kind of word of mouth is different from what what I’ve done in the past. But it’s it’s working really well so far. Yeah.

Bronson: It’s I was going to say, you know, in the past, it’s let’s implement, you know, a funnel tweak and watch our signups go up higher. We’re now it’s more raw, almost it’s more hustle. It’s more let’s reach out, talk to people, trade tweets, trade blog post. And I’m glad you went into that because people are different situations and if you’re not in a typical branch situation, you may want to not listen to those strategies as much. And if you’re in a creative market situation, need to listen to these kind of strategies.

Zack: Yeah. So I mean, you know, another one of the reasons is that, you know, credit markets are really small team. And so we have, you know, we don’t have a lot of engineering resources and so we have this awesome roadmap and we do have a lot of those, you know, growth product features on that roadmap. And we’ve built out an integrated Facebook connect a couple of weeks ago. We have like a life feature that’s going out and we’ve increased our inbound from Facebook like 300% or something. And, and so there’s a lot of those kind of like bigger feature rollouts that we have planned that it’s just going to take time to get there. And so, yeah, in the meantime, you know, we can do a lot of hustling on the side that. Doesn’t require entertainment resources.

Bronson: Yeah. So you mentioned the SEO and the inbound links. I mean, the other kind of pieces to the strategy, I know in the future you got some engineering stuff and that’ll be, you know, AB testing and the flows and all that. Anything else that you guys are kind of focusing on besides those?

Zack: Yeah, I mean, there’s some stuff that well, I’ll just say that in experimenting with online markets, with paid marketing. So I’m trying out all these different channels and just seeing if we can get a low enough, you know, CPC and looking at our click through rate and look at our conversion rate and see if we can actually affordably, you know, bring on new customers. So I’m doing a lot of work there on the product side. I don’t know if I can talk too much about what’s coming up because we are doing some pretty big, really cool stuff that no one else is doing. So but yeah, keep an eye on that.

Bronson: Maybe after it comes out, you can come back on and tell us about it. Yeah. So once the cat’s out of the bag, you can you let us know about it. Now, that’s great. Are you using any. You know, you said you’re dabbling in pay per click. Are you just going to traditional, you know, Google ads, that kind of stuff? Or are you trying some other of the other marketplaces for that stuff?

Zack: Yeah. I mean, so, you know, buy sell ads is a pretty cool, you know, design creative ad network that I’ve been dabbling in. I’m trying to steer away from the the kind of bundle packages because I just find that I do the research on a site and just go directly with them and I try to go direct if I can.

Bronson: So you go to buy sell ads, but then go directly to the blog?

Zack: No, no, no. There are there are other design sites are on buy sell ads. So I can reach out to those guys first. I tend to get a better a better deal that way. And I kind of negotiate and get, you know, talk them down on their asking price. But, you know, it’s it’s fine. I mean, at this point, the stage in the company we just launched in October, it’s like we’re just trying to find what’s going to work, what’s going to be that that one thing that we can, like, just scale. So, yeah, it’s just fun to try all this different stuff and just experiment.

Bronson: Yeah, I like that thing. You know, the one thing you can use to scale almost think that to do growth, well, you have to have no mercy when you find the one thing that works. And just drill down as much as possible. The analogy that comes to my mind, which is kind of lame, but when I go and play basketball, I’m really tall. And so sometimes gardening is short. I literally stand in the basket and throw me the ball and yeah, it’s lame. It’s like, it’s not fun. Everybody hates it, but it’s like, you have to have that killer instinct of when something’s working, just do it as much as possible. And that’s kind of where we are now is experimentation stage to see what that one thing is going to be that you can just exploit, right?

Zack: Yeah. I mean, exploit is a little dirty word. Well, I.

Bronson: Don’t mean I don’t mean it like in a negative sense. I know. I mean, like it’s true.

Zack: I mean.

Bronson: We’re on that channel. Well.

Zack: We’re all we’re all looking for opportunities, right? So I mean, that’s that’s the whole the growth thing is, is and that’s kind of what I mentioned at the beginning is that prioritization is so important to talk with your team and and find out, you know, discuss what is going to be that needle move. But where should we spend the next, you know, a couple of days, week, two weeks, whatever, focusing on hoping that this is going to be the thing that works. And, you know, the what happens is, you know, you know, one thing out of the ten things you try actually does well and the other ones fail.

Bronson: So let’s talk about for just a second because, you know, people watching these interviews, they can get the assumption like, oh, everything, these guys try work, you know, everything they do just kind of turns the goal, their Midas touch. The reality is almost everything doesn’t work right or even actually works negatively. Like you change something and it breaks it and the flow is worse.

Zack: Yeah. Now that happens. Happens all the time. I mean I think that’s the, the brilliance about AB testing is that you can segment off a small percentage of your of your traffic and test this assumption, this hypothesis. And yeah, I mean, I am proven wrong all the time and it sucks. Like I’m a little embarrassed and it really gets really laughed at more. That’s, that’s shocking. But I mean, you know.

Bronson: It works. It is. Yeah, exactly. Well, let’s talk about your skill sets a little bit. You know, look on your LinkedIn profile and like most people, you kind of list out some of the things that you’ve worked on, some of the skills you’ve developed. And one of the skills is just overseeing growth teams, and we already talked about that a little bit, so we probably won’t go into it too much. But I will ask you this. When you’re looking to hire someone for a growth team like you had and at brands there, when you said, all right, I want to get a group of people together and really focus on growth. What kinds of people are you looking for? Are you looking for a bunch of people just like you that have this same mindset? Or are you looking for diversification and what does that look like?

Zack: Yeah. So it was important to to me and one of the teams that we kept the team small. So originally we’re, we’re only three people and then we brought in another guy to head up email. But you know, really that team really looks like a full stack engineer, someone. It can do front and back and. And release. And then. And then an analyst. Mm hmm. So, I mean, I spend a lot of my day looking a lot of a lot of metrics and numbers, but having somebody who’s just hardcore 8 hours a day data in numbers and looking for opportunities really helps us shape our road map and find where to prioritize our stuff next. I mean, a lot of that, too, is just looking at, you know, changes in the platform. Like when you’re building an app on somebody else’s platform, things get rolled out and it’s like, okay, this is an opportunity. Let’s stop what we’re working on before and let’s let’s go see if we can make something work on this new channel. So it’s really like, you know, my background is design and analytics and maybe testing and kind of and then, you know, I probably wouldn’t hire much outside of one analyst. One engineer. Mm hmm. To a certain point in a scalable company.

Bronson: Yeah.

Zack: So you just get smooth so much faster.

Bronson: Yeah. So if you think that a small team of, you know, among them, they could do front end back in and someone to be an analyst kind of full time. You think that’s a pretty good trifecta right there?

Zack: Yeah. For just the growth, the product growth. That’s why the scale scaling those features. I think that, you know, you can have an SEO guy and you can have a paid marketing guy. That’s a guy. But but for the core growth product stuff three, you know, one engineer, one designer, one one analyst, this is all you need. And you know, if you have a good engineer that’s as an analytical mind and like sticking in numbers, that could be one guy. The designer is also, you know.

Bronson: So so it could be a team. It could be.

Zack: One it could be one guy if he’s a rockstar. But, you know, the goal is just to keep it really small because you just need to move fast.

Bronson: Yeah, I like the idea that it’s not one person and it’s not huge because one person is just, I mean, just analyzing the numbers alone and trying to do an exploratory, looking at what the data is saying could be full time, you know, so it’s only some of the other stuff.

Zack: Yeah. So many hours in the day.

Bronson: So many hours in a day. But then if you get it too big, you know, you kind of lose, you know, the return there as well. So I like the idea of like a small team kind of on that mission. Another thing it says on LinkedIn profile is, you know, something that’s obvious, but you leverage analytics to inform and influence decision making. I know you talked about the analytics at Branch Out a little bit. You talked about using Mixpanel there and then building some in-house stuff. What is your typical analytics setup look like? Are those the to use Mixpanel and in-house or is it different every time? Is there another optimization that was in the mix as well?

Zack: Yeah, when we use.

Bronson: The raw trade.

Zack: We use, you know, we pull data from Facebook Insights excuse me, from, you know, Google Analytics. There’s all these different tools out there and they all have that all great at what they do. Mm hmm. And they all do different things. There’s some overlap between. So in a lot of them, I really like Mixpanel because it’s it’s it’s very open. It allows you to segment basically any event that you want to segment on and it’s completely customizable. So it’s been a really great tool, you know, as a front end and back end API. So it’s you could do whatever you want with it. Yeah. So that’s, that’s been probably my primary tool for analytics has been. Yeah.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. That’s actually what we’re using, you know, for growth out of TV right now is, you know, it does what we need to.

Zack: So but at the end of the day, I’m exporting data from Mixpanel, exporting data from all these different sources and throwing it into Excel and then slicing and dicing it immediately. So there’s not there’s not like a filmic sell. You just it’s. You have to use it.

Bronson: Yeah. No, that’s great. So you also mentioned KPIs and you mentioned earlier, you know, the key performance indicators. How important are KPIs for you personally? Do you just is it like a primary thing that you just it you know, how to use them?

Zack: It’s absolutely essential. I think if you don’t start there and, you know, bring all the decision makers in the company and make sure that everyone’s on the same page with those KPIs. You’re just spinning your wheels and you’ll all just drown. Yeah. So, I mean, you you just really, you know, everyone needs to be pushing forward to the search towards those company goals.

Bronson: Yeah. So KPIs do you have is it one? Is it three? I mean, like right now, you know, you guys said your focus on revenue is I mean, is that the KPI and there’s a few other sub KPIs.

Zack: Well we have we have three that are our main KPIs and then you know, probably underneath each is probably like ten metrics that help us look into those. And then I mean really we require Mixpanel to track almost every event on the site just in case there’s something that we wanted to dig into. Yeah, we can. We’re also storing data in our, in our database and we have used a tool called Cesario to, to graph some, some graphs there that. Mixpanel doesn’t have access to.

Bronson: So tell us about Chas I. Oh, I’ve never heard of them.

Zack: Here I am TARDIO or o chart.

Bronson: Okay. What do they do?

Zack: It’s just a visual visual visualization tool for just graphing out your metrics so you can you can run SQL queries and then it spits out a graph.

Bronson: Oh, okay. So can just be like a real quick and dirty poor man’s mixpanel kind of thing.

Zack: It’s not a Mixpanel. It’s more of just a a visualization of data. So it’s more of a dashboard tool. Yeah, but it’s. I think they’re twice the company.

Bronson: Yeah. I’ll have to take.

Zack: The credit.

Bronson: Now with KPIs. You know, you mentioned, you know, that you have three of them, right? And so the revenue is the obvious one and everyone kind of has the obvious KPI, right? It’s either page views if you’re selling ads or whatever, you know, how do you pick the other two when you have just so much data at your disposal? There’s so much information overload. How do you know? Like, okay, these are the three that we’re going to hone in and focus on to the exclusion of other things, possibly.

Zack: So, I mean, you know, the revenue is the main KPI and then the other two are kind of underneath that. And I would say those are visitors and new users per day. And then revenue means that we so converting a visitor to a new user to a purchaser.

Bronson: This kind of goes back to what you said earlier about priorities. You know, you focus on the big things like the check or like the registration flow, the red path, and then you focus on the smaller things, the copywriting, the same thing kind of holds true through KPI. What’s the main KPI? What are the couple of things that drive that main KPI? And for the ten metrics that drive those things that drive the main KPI, right? Yeah.

Zack: Yeah, it’s all relative. But I think it’s really important to justify because you know, like in Branch Out’s case, we weren’t at the revenue step yet. We’re focusing on building a huge network so that that KPI was was bringing in new registered users. Mm hmm. So it’s this is different for different people’s business. And I just think that it’s really important that everyone gets on the same page as to what, you know, everyone’s focused on so that there’s not, you know, confusion.

Bronson: Yeah, no. I asked you about the reporting a little bit, you know, with the branch out. You said it was almost a 24 hour cycle. You know, you stand up in the morning, you decide what you’re going to do and buy, you know, tomorrow, you know, if it worked or not and you’re ready to move on or, you know, go deeper with it. Is it different a creative market because it is such a different product? Do you have reports going out every day and that you’re changing things every day, or is it a week? Is it a month? Like what are the reports look like now?

Zack: So I do a I do a weekly report market every Monday, and then every four weeks I’ll do a monthly overview and we’ll look back at the months past, you know, as we get bigger and start growing faster, those will probably become a daily task at branch out. It was. It was daily. Mm hmm. As we saw changes. So I think it’s it just depends on the scale and how fast you’re growing at the time. And then, you know, you branch out to get that, you know, 40, 50 people at one time. And we only sent those reports out to about ten people.

Bronson: Yeah. Yeah. Now, on your profile, it also says you have experience in viral funnels. Is viral funnels the same thing as viral loops?

Zack: I mean, there there are. So did I think the loop is is the, you know, invite click through conversion invite. Mm hmm. You know, it’s an invite viral.

Bronson: Funnel because I don’t know about this then.

Zack: I mean, the funnel is just I mean, it’s exact same thing. I guess it’s the different different way I thinking about it is just a linear like just starting with step one, up your funnel, optimize that, then go to step to optimize that, then go to step three out of that. So yeah, I mean, I guess it’s the same thing. Yeah. But yeah.

Bronson: No. Great. What have you learned about viral funnels and viral loops, you know, being, you know, tickled branch out, you know, creative marketing. Now what are some of the things that, you know, when you think about viral loops and viral funnels, you’re like, all right, I know this to be true about virality.

Zack: So I think that depends as well. So, you know, one of the things that we saw at Branch Out’s case is that we the requests where, you know, utilizing that request channel on Facebook, which are really, really small click through rate and sort of make up the different able to make that collective rate gain for us is that we had to increase the top of the funnel. That means increasing the amount of invite that people would send. And so and so we developed a UI that would scan on Facebook friends and then sort them professional. So we like all the people you work with at this time, the people you work with to this company, people you went to school with. And so that made it really easy for people to bucket and invite more friends than they would if they just saw like an alphabet vertical list of friends. Yeah. So.

Bronson: No, it sounds awesome. I love that idea. Just you saying, that’s great. That’s cool. Now, another thing it mentioned is that, you know, you know a lot about email and email seems to be like this unsung hero of so many startups. What have you learned about email? You know, then and now.

Zack: It’s a bitch. Yeah, it’s. It’s one of those things. It’s like, you know, it’s it’s awesome because it’s always been there. But, you know, spam is a huge problem and, you know, and deliverability is a huge problem. So it’s it’s something that you have to constantly monitor. But if you can get it to work, you know, we’ve seen all the startups that, you know, they’re solely based on email as they’re written. So yeah, it’s it’s great when you get it to work, but you really have to optimize it so that people are really happy. And, and, you know, we just we just did a big push to, to redesign our unsubscribe flow creator market just to make it more friendly for users. And if they don’t want our emails, if they want less emails or so, I think there’s a balance. I think that, you know, it’s just like it’s hard because once you have one slip up, it could hurt your deliverability across your domain. So. Yeah, absolutely. But it’s it’s it’s awesome, though. I mean, if you if you can get it to work, it could be a huge channel for growth.

Bronson: Now, when you say one slip up that can hurt deliverability across your domain, you mean one email that got flagged as spam by too many people and now your domain has a black mark against it, that kind of thing.

Zack: It doesn’t take it doesn’t take too many market spams to give you a big thing that the ISP’s are getting better at looking at, not so much looking at, you know, spammy keywords and like stuff that we were doing ten years ago. But really looking at engagement. So if you’re sending people emails that they want and you know the content is content that they want, then they’re going to open it in a click through and then, you know, you’re, you’re okay. But if you’re setting stuff that’s overly optimized that, you know, you’re sending to emails, you’re you’re going to date yourself. So it’s a fine line to balance and you just have to watch really closely. But it’s, it’s, it’s a good and evil at times.

Bronson: So yeah, yeah. You mentioned the evil side of it. You know, path is still having their woes with with their loop, you know, just got a little bit too aggressive, you know, and maybe they pulled back a little bit. Nobody would notice, but they went a little bit too much. And now it’s the thing, you know, now it’s you know, everyone has to blog about it, have an opinion on it. So your client wants.

Zack: Beyond that, once your email starts going into the spam bucket, it’s really hard to get that email. So it takes time to to kind of pedal backwards.

Bronson: So yeah, no, that’s great advice. Well, this has been awesome. Let’s have a couple last questions here for you. Sure. First, you know, in your. Career was the single best growth hack you’ve ever implemented. The small little change that just really opened up something. Is there any moment or is it just you know.

Zack: That’s that’s probably the thing that is asked most, I think, to everybody. And, I mean, there’s definitely been some some top tactical things that have moved the needle like, oh, shit, that was cool. But when you look at the graph over time, there’s just all these really cool features that move the needle. So there’s no silver bullet, you know, and people always think there is. And like when you read these case studies, there may be these Craig’s List, but they did a ton of stuff, you know, and, you know, they had this great affiliate program. They did. You know, anyway, it’s never one day. Yeah, I hardly ever. Yeah. So, yeah, just say that.

Bronson: No, that’s great.

Zack: It’s probably a briefcase full of local strategies to try. The other thing, too, is that, you know, things that work for us at table did not work. It branch out and they would not work. So. So it’s definitely, you know, each company has its own tactics and ways to grow and you just have to experiment a lot to find those.

Bronson: Yeah. So it’s really about experimentation and knowing it’s a process, not not a specific tactic.

Zack: It’s. It’s testing like 80%.

Bronson: Yeah. No, that’s great. Well, what’s the best advice you can give to any startup that’s trying to grow right now? And maybe you just already gave it, which is experiment a lot. I don’t know.

Zack: Um. I guess the best advice is to experiment, but also just not to get too wrapped up into all the growth blogs and all. There’s a lot of blogging happening right now and there’s a lot of countering opinions, and I think it’s really just finding out what works for you and not not believing what other people are blogging about as science. There’s a lot of smart people and there’s a lot of success out there, but it’s really just what works for your company is is and you just have to find that.

Bronson: So, yeah, you know, that’s great advice because we have people on this show that totally disagree with each other and yet they’re both geniuses that are doing well. So it’s like, well, what do you believe? Well, both, you know, neither. I don’t know. Like, you got to figure it out. You’re getting perspectives to inform you, but now you have to go do the hard work of growing your startup.

Zack: You know.

Bronson: That’s that was like this is an awesome interview. Thanks so much. Just for taking time out your schedule and coming on Growth Hacker TV.

Zack: Sure. Thanks for having me. And fun.

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