Season 2, Ep. 7 – Growing out of our bootstraps with Gun.io’s Director of Growth Marketing, Faith Benson
Growth marketing is so much more than just customer acquisition. In this episode, we talk with our Director of Growth Marketing, Faith Benson, about how she helped Gun.io grow out of our bootstraps and into the big(ger) leagues.
Guys, what are we talking about today?
We’re here to talk to Faith. We’re flipping the camera and the microphones around to talk to Faith about growth marketing and how she has used it over the last few years to help grow Gun.io from a bootstrap company to where we are now. So I guess like when you first started, you were the every man for Teja and Tyler. You did all of it.
She changed genders, actually. (Abbey: The every woman.)
We had other people on the team too.
How did your role—how did it grow to where, you know, you started focusing on growth marketing, and why that over any of the other avenues that you could have taken in a growing company?
I think just generally when you’re thinking about a smaller business—which we were four years ago—there’s not— a small business doesn’t have a need for like a brand marketer, right? Or somebody to come and do even like content to some extent. Like a small business, the only marketing need they have really is growth marketing. And I guess it probably makes sense to define growth marketing. If you listen to Twitter, growth marketing is just when dudes do marketing. (Teja: Is that true?)
It’s not not true.
It’s not not true. But I mean marketing, I think like marketing just has—like, it’s a profession that’s been around forever. And I think similar to like ad sales, people are like, Oh yeah, marketers. They sit around a table with, you know, their Etch-a-Sketches, and think about what their gut says to do, and that’s what they spend millions of dollars on. (Teja: That sounds sick.) That does sound sick.
That sounds fuckin’ dope. Like, what? I want that job.
I want that job, too. But I was always trash at the Etch-a-Sketch.
We can get you some Tinker Toys.
Growth marketing—I think there’s like two kinds of key differentiators between marketing and growth marketing. One is growth marketing tends to think about the full funnel. So instead of just acquisition, how do we get new customers in the door as leads? We’re thinking about what happens after that. How do we convert them? What happens through the sales process all the way to retention, right? The other bit is growth marketing tends to be more experimentation focused—so running really quick cycles to figure out what works and what doesn’t. And that second piece is really what serves a small business, right? Because when you’re just starting to build traction, you have to operate that way, right? Like you have to throw a bunch of shit on the wall to see what sticks. And then from there, obviously you can build out your marketing team and get a little bit more specialized. But I don’t know, Teja, I feel like you’re the person to talk to about this. Like, what was the need when I came on?
We kind of had the vision that we wanted to build out a marketing department, because you know, part of the thesis was, hey, like recruiting is kind of a boring industry. And I think, you know, at the time we were trying to operate in a pretty unique way, and we needed help with the storytelling of the way that we were operating, right? But it just so happened that a big part of our storytelling component involved the mechanical strategy of ad spend which is considered a part of marketing, but our business was so reliant on inbound that actually, marketing is a really important department for us. Not only because of the direction of the company, but I think our unique selling proposition and storytelling. But also because it’s like you’re managing, I dunno, a hundred grand budget basically, right? Just on like ads alone—or close to that. (Faith: Yeah.) I think we always knew that.
And I think what struck us about you, if I’m remembering correctly, is that you had a really good facility and command of the language, which is like probably really what you need to effectively story tell and also like, you know, we could sense that hustler mentality, that get shit done mentality—you had your own business, you bought a house, things like that, right, that are signaling to level of effort that you would have professionally. And so it was like, we wanted to make storytelling a key part of our strategy, we were reliant on ads, and we needed somebody that could eventually manage that whole function for us. I think we made the right decision. It’s workin out!Yeah. I think it was the right decision. Yeah, totally. (Abbey: Yeah.)
Yeah, I hope so.
But you came in, and you basically talked to customers to start. I mean, that’s what you did, right?
Right. I mean at, at the stage we were—and I’m thinking about like people who are operating small businesses who might be listening and thinking about like, you know, customer acquisitions, starting to figure out their traction channels. Like, we were still very much in the phase of like, how do we make our sales process run effectively, right? How do we convert as many leads as possible so we can make our cost per lead numbers make sense? So yeah, for my first six to eight months, I was picking up the phone immediately when a lead signed up and saying, Hey, what do you need? How can we help you? Like just interviewing them and getting as much information as we could, building a little bit of rapport. And that was our first experiment. The question was, if we call leads within five minutes of them submitting a lead form, will they convert at a higher rate? And the answer was yes. So that was—
So we should go back to basics, right? I agree.
Right? I talk about it all the time.
We’re doing so much shit that I feel like that’s the key. Yeah, totally.
But even that, you know, like we often talk about it like, haha remember when Faith was doing customer discovery calls? But it wasn’t—it’s not outside the scope of growth marketing. Because like we said, you know, growth marketing is full funnel. You have to think about everything that happens from the time that somebody first hears about your brand to when they’re a customer, and you’re trying to retain them for, you know, a number of months or years.
Totally. Do you have a favorite experiment that you’ve run? Even if it didn’t go how you thought it would? I feel like we’re given a lot of freedom here—and more freedom than anywhere I’ve ever worked—to just try shit.
Wait, I didn’t know that. I’m just kidding.
I feel like experiments—experiments aren’t usually sexy.
—What, that we have freedom?
“I didn’t authorize that!”
I mean like experiments are—they’re super small tests, right? Like, it’s not like a—like a big, sexy thing is more of like, a campaign. You know, like a couple years ago for April fool’s day, we created this spoof website and it was dog.gun.io.
And everyone’s dogs were on it, and we were offering whatever…dog…services they offered. And I mean, that was hilarious. But that wasn’t an experiment, right? Like experiments are like, if I change this headline copy, can I get 0.002% more people to convert?
The sexy stuff.
Right? Exactly. The stuff that everybody wants to do with their professional time. But that is like, I don’t know, Zuckerberg always says that the best thing Facebook did was invent the growth team. Which maybe, I don’t know. But like, that’s why in the early kind of 2010s, everybody was like hype on growth teams, ‘cause they were like, Oh, well that’s how Facebook figured out their retention. They were like, the question was how can we get people to stay on Facebook longer? And so the Facebook product team- or the Facebook growth team- was just running these like super teeny incremental experiments. So we definitely do that. I think we’re still kind of building that muscle, but maybe a larger one is the Wayfair, right? Like our newsletter started as an experiment, which was like, if we consistently email folks in our network, both developers and clients every single week, A) Can we get people—like more people, engaged? And B) Can we get more leads ultimately to convert, even if they don’t convert right away? So that one’s been fun. So far, the answer is yes. We’ve been doing it for four years.
Aren’t you at like 30,000 subscribers plus at this point?
That’s a lot.
Yeah. A little more than 30,000 subscribers, and we get between 30 and 40% opens every week.
That’s—yeah. It’s like triple, probably, the average, right?
Pretty good, for a newsletter. Yeah. Yeah. (Abbey: Yeah) Yeah, I don’t wanna make like crazy claims, but it’s definitely, definitely good. Probably better open rate than I get in my emails to my family, sooo…
Average open rate for—let’s see—for news letters. We can solve this, right? Alright, what do you guys think it is?
I think it’s somewhere around like seven to eight percent.
I would say probably eighteen percent.
Cool. Abbey’s right. It’s closer to 10%. (Faith: Whoa)
So that’s huge. I mean, that’s a —
Shout out to—
Shout out to Wayfair.
To Wayfair readers. I don’t know why they like it, but I don’t know. I feel like I get so much shit in my email. It’s not shit. It’s like people spend a lot of time writing helpful stuff, you know, like I get James Clear’s email, and just like a bunch of other kind of like “thought leaders”. But I just don’t always have time for that. And also sometimes I’m like, I don’t want to. I don’t want my brain to work. I mostly just want to clear out my inbox and maybe like laugh a little bit.
I dunno. I think then that’s been a good experiment. And that kind of ties in all of the parts of where you’ve grown as a growth marketer with the company. Do you think that there are things that—methods that you’ve found that work really well in tech hiring that would work elsewhere really well? Or things that you think are specific to tech hiring?
Yeah. In terms of like growth strategies?
Yeah. ‘Cause we’ve talked a lot, at least like one on one, about how marketing to developers in general is really hard. You’ve done a great job seeing where we’re at.
Yeah. Well I can’t take— I like stepped into a like, very nice brand that—like props to Teja and Rich at the beginning—like the, the North Star was like, what can we do to make developers lives better? And they created a brand and a brand promise that was really resonant with devs. And up until now, I mean like a decade of business, and we have barely spent any kind of money on marketing to developers, because we really rely on reputation and relationship building there. So I would say like for people that are operating like in some sort of developer facing marketing space, the advice is like, just have a talent first approach and figure out what it is you can do to provide value and build relationships with developers.
That comes first.
Yeah. I think also like— you’re really good at being authentic, Faith. So I’m thinking about Rich when I said like, “un-fuck something”, that was like an actual action item on his developer roadmap, right? And like that’s, and that’s probably like, it’s not all developers. ‘Cause some— I think about Deividi— they operate differently. But I think Rich was really good at being himself. (Faith: Yeah.) And I think we’re really good at being ourselves just as a business, in terms of like the personality that we show through the storytelling that you and Abbey and everybody else really that like, we’re ramping up. Like we’re able to like the value of what we’re doing in a way that feels authentic. I think that’s why the Wayfair makes sense. And yeah, we had a good brand, but I think we’ve done a good job of building the marketing team around people who show up authentically such that they’re able to tell an authentic story of what the company is doing.
(Abbey: Yeah. I would agree with that.) Especially working in like a dev facing marketer realm, because like our business—obviously we have our talent, our developers on one side, and then our clients, our hiring companies on the other. (Teja: Yep.) But ultimately— they’re the usually the same people, right? Like developers hire other developers through Gun.io. And so everything we do has to resonate with devs and yeah. Authenticity goes a long way, for sure.
Mm-Hmm. Yeah, I mean, I think people that are probably more mathematically and engineering inclined tend to be more skeptical just by nature because of the nature of the profession. Like that’s a huge value, to be skeptical of how things are built. And so our market is more discerning than the average market you’re marketing to, so I don’t know- I’m sure you guys have faced that challenge. Let’s talk about that actually. How have you faced that challenge? If you’re not selling like— razors. Do you know what I mean? Do you ever lay awake at night, like, “Fuck. How do I market this effectively?”
I think it’s fun to market, honestly. ‘Cause there’s— I feel like the the room you have to play when it comes to marketing is much greater when you have a really clear idea of your competitive advantage. Like who you’re competing with, why you think you’re better than them. I’m a very competitive person in some things—and things that I think I’m good at. If I think I’m bad at it, I’m like, please be my guest. But yeah, I don’t feel like I struggle with like, how am I gonna tell this story in a compelling way? Like how am I gonna land this this market? It’s more [like] there’s just so much possibility that that’s I think where any of my anxiety comes from is like, how am I gonna have the time and resources to test everything that we wanna try?
Mm. There’s like an overwhelming amount of things you could try, right?
Faith ( ):
I guess that’s actually my other piece of advice for folks that are building companies and starting to think about whether it’s marketing or growth marketing is, as soon as you can, you should have somebody whose job it is to think about what happens next. Because it’s really easy on a growth marketing team as you’re running these kind of like, fast cycle experiments to be like, Oh, shit, that worked. We need to do that. And just like before you know it, you’re stuck in the weeds just operating these things, and you don’t know what the next thing is that you’re gonna try. So having somebody whose job it is to like, not really operate the day-to-day, but to be thinking about what has to happen next, I think is key. And you’re not—I don’t think you’re too small ever to do it. Like if you’ve got a team of like four plus, you know, that’s probably big enough to have somebody who’s just thinking about future-focused stuff.
Okay. How do you rank and prioritize your experiments? What’s your methodology?
I do the old two axis between effort and impact, right? So higher impact, lower effort stuff. And it’s not like an end all be all right. Like if something is super high impact and high effort, that doesn’t mean that it’s not gonna happen. And by effort, we can say—maybe investment’s a better word. So it’s like time investment, but also like money required. It’s not an immediate no, but it helps you rank stuff and choose like some easy wins, high impact, low investment things obviously are worth trying right away. I think after that, like obviously you’ll still have things on the table and I think our team’s kind of unique in this sense. Our growth marketing team operates a lot like a dev team just by nature of working so closely with our dev team. So we organize our work into milestones. We use GitHub for all of our like team planning. But also we think a lot about context switching. So if there’s a lot of stuff that’s on the table that’s, you know, we could possibly do in the span of like a quarter or a year, we tend to try to bulk things together that are in like the same kind of context or headspace, especially if it’s gonna be owned by a certain person.
Do you see the world differently as a marketer because you’ve worked in marketing? Like, are you able to like look at a brand and be like, Oh, that’s interesting. The angle that they’re taking…
It’s almost problematic for me.
Oh my god. Like, I’ll see something and be like, Wow, that was like—especially having a background in copywriting—I’ll be like, that was really well-written. Or it’s like, Do you realize what you just said? You know, without really thinking about it, I see and do that everywhere.
Yeah, I do too. I mean like nit-picky stuff, like typos on websites or misplaced commas. I’m like, come on guys. I mean, we have that too though. Like, we’re not perfect. But I think like strategy wise, I’m more critical because I did spend so much time kind of in the middle of our funnel, I’m more critical of like early to mid funnel strategies.
Got it. Like onboarding or something.
Yeah. If I reach out to another kind of like services company, and I have an inquiry about hiring them or whatever, and their process is abrasive in any way, I’ll give them the feedback.
Just because you know, it’s not good, and it’s gonna save ’em time if like somebody is honest with them.
I think that also is like—I mean obviously I’ve only been here a short time—but I think that that’s how you have to take that feedback to grow. You know, like I see the things that come in on Intercom in response to emails that we’re sending out and it’s like some of the feedback is really necessary, even if it’s painful here. If you want the best product for the people that you’re serving, that’s inevitably gonna come with people saying like, No, how you’re doing this right now does not work.
I feel like that’s another thing we do well that I would like encourage other companies our size to prioritize is talking to customers as much as possible and just working it into your daily process as a company, right? Like we do larger bi-yearly surveys of like both customers and developers, but like pretty consistently we’re getting feedback in the door, whether it’s through Intercom, our community, Slack, monthly surveys with active clients… Like we’re getting all of this, and it’s being distributed basically to the whole team. Like we’ve got these open channels in Slack where people can jump in and just kind of absorb these sentiments through osmosis, which I think is like, it’s huge. It’s like for a growth marketing team, but also just for like a team our size where everybody has to be super rooted in what our customers are saying.
I feel like our company has two big cycles—like two big growth cycles. One cycle is outreach and awareness, reaching more and more people. And then the other cycle is like feedback collection, prioritization, implementation. That makes the product better and then you reach more people, and that’s how you build a company.
That’s it, guys. Easy as that. (Abbey: Three steps.)
Three steps that that’ll make you rich in 2023! No, but I think growth marketing is integral for both loops—in feedback collection and in awareness generation.
That’s a way better—I like your definition that you just came up with of growth marketing better than the actual definition of growth marketing.
Which is what?
Which is, it tends to think about the whole funnel, and it tends to be more data driven than marketing. I think the data driven piece is such bullshit though. Like I really do, because I don’t know a single marketer, even people who don’t have like, growth in front of their marketing title, who is not incredibly data driven. Like marketing is all about data.
I mean like, I think coming from a traditional brand marketing background, I think for me, it’s always been so slow to produce data that it’s like—how do you measure brand sentiment, brand recognition, stuff like that, that takes a really long time to kind of build, even if it’s not somebody who’s like actively using your product. And it’s not that I don’t care about the data, it’s just that it moves so slow sometimes that it’s not top of my mind. Which is why I find growth marketing so interesting because it’s like, I really like the analytical side of development, you know, there’s a right way to do this. There are multiple right ways to do this, but there’s one outcome. I think it’s really cool what you do and how it differs from what I’ve done in the past.
No, that’s interesting, because this is my first marketing job. I’ve never marketed anything before. So I always appreciate hearing like what is it like in other companies? Like is there actually a difference between what we do and what someone might do at a more traditional marketing team, especially in a marketing team that’s selling a good, rather than a service like us?
It feels a little soul sucking. We’re all parties to consumerism, whatever. But to be a part of a team like this, where it’s like what we’re selling is a better option for people to make their life better…
At the end of the day, so much more satisfying than selling shoes.
Yeah. I don’t think I could be fulfilled by like, selling face cream.
Shit, if it works…
But your skin would glow!
I just don’t think it would do it for me.
Yeah. No, I think you guys have done a great job of building a strategy agnostic, but a results oriented culture in growth marketing. You know, like whatever works, let’s do it. Let’s do the thing that generates the most results. I think that’s good.
Yes. Thanks, Teja. Appreciate it.
So like growth marketing to me—at least the way that I look at it— is like a piece of the overall growth puzzle. Like you wanna grow a company from, let’s say, I dunno, 10k MRR is l the first benchmark for a company that’s on the way to making it. Like, you’ve proved the idea, blah, blah, blah, it’s working. You go from 10k monthly recurring revenue to like your first million in revenue. How would a founding team, maybe 2-3 people, how would they figure out the right strategy to get to a million in revenue from 120 in revenue? Where does growth marketing play in that?
I think too often, people get psyched on growth before they have their most viable company nailed down, which—and I’m like paraphrasing from someone much smarter than me—like your most viable company means like you’ve got your business model nailed down. Like you understand what you’re charging, your cogs, all that you understand, the ecosystem that you’re operating in, which is not just your customers, but like for example, if I’m selling face cream, right? Like the ecosystem is my customers, but it’s also the manufacturers, it’s my competitors. It’s laws in different countries around like which chemicals can and can’t be in your face frames. And then the third is obviously understanding your value propositions. And I think too often that question, Teja, that you just posed, like how are you gonna get to your first million in revenue is like, oh well, like how am I gonna get as many customers as possible?
But really your first step is to nail your most viable company. And then from there you can think about growth. But let’s assume that somebody’s like got all that stuff nailed, ready to rock. I would highly recommend that they read the book Traction, which Teja, you recommended to me. And it just does a really good job of explaining, especially to a founder or somebody who doesn’t come from a marketing background, like, here are all your possible traction channels. And you might have a pretty good idea that if you’re selling face cream, your primary channel’s gonna be Instagram, but you might be surprised. So like, let’s talk about all the possible ways you could develop traction, and then let’s narrow those down based on like a really kind of intuitive strategy. That’s it, that’s the formula for success guys. if you wanna make a million in revenue.
Do you think all those things, like figuring out tax laws, cogs, does that fall within the purview of growth? So like—actually, two questions. What’s the difference between growth and growth marketing? And then under which umbrella do those things fall into? I have my own view, but I’m curious about yours. Obviously this is your interview, so…
I think like we can talk about the functions, and then we can talk about the people, right? Like the functions—if you’re in early stage company, the functions might all fall under one person’s purview, and that person is probably the founder. So whether it’s growth or marketing or growth marketing, like it’s your job, probably you’re the founder and you’re operating solo. Your second question was like, okay, so what’s the difference between growth and growth marketing? I don’t know. I mean, I would say like I—by nature of just like being nosy and kind of like obsessive about things—like I feel like I have a really kinda wide purview here. Like I think about a lot of shit that probably is not under the marketing umbrella. And I think all of it is to serve growth.
So for example, like let’s say we uncover a common sentiment within our customers who tend to churn before they hit their LTV, right? It is my job as a growth marketer to think about, what was the story that these folks heard that brought them to Gun? And is that a story that we can, or that we intended to make good on? And if we intended to, but we couldn’t, why is that? It’s my job as a growth marketer to take that sentiment that’s rooted super deep in the funnel, right? That’s about churn. And think about how we can make adjustments at the top of the funnel and the mid funnel to prevent that. While of course like, you know, CSMs, account managers are working kind of on the front lines. I dunno if that answers your question, Teja, or just creates more questions. But how would you define the difference?
It’s not my interview, so I plead the fifth.
I tend to be pretty rigid in most things, but departmental scope is so company specific, and also so personality specific. Actually, that’s one thing that I’ve learned, probably in the last couple of years, is how much personal disposition and the personalities of the players on the team actually dictate the scope of functions in departments. ‘Cause some people wanna be an inch wide and a mile deep, just killing it on a very narrow side of things. You know, Deividi comes to mind, right? Like, and then some people want to be really wide birth, like touching all different functions to try to improve different things. And that’s gray. And you know, a lot of it is like, I think expectations inform behavior. Like maybe their titles inform what they wanna do, but then also behavior informs expectations. Like if somebody touches all facets of the company and they do a good job, like with you and touching revenue and sales part, and the experiments good. It’s like, keep going, right? Like that’s everybody’s incentive is to keep going. So I don’t really have in my mind like really rigid distinctions between departments, like growth versus growth marketing versus marketing. I think it’s like whatever nomenclature is really workable and solid. And then so much of it is unique to the specific company. That’s how I think about it.
A lot of companies will do—like when they think of growth teams, they’ll do like a growth pod, right? So there’s like a product manager, there’s a designer, there’s a developer, there’s a marketer sometimes. And these growth pods are all over the company, right? Like they’ll insert themselves maybe in like a really specific feature that needs to be tested and improved upon or a really specific stage in the sales process. And so that’s like traditional growth is these kind of like chameleon pods that can jump into any team. Our need specifically when I came on and I think today is growth marketing, which is like, we’re not quite big enough to have like a generalized marketing team. We’re still kind of learning. We’ve gotta experiment quickly, figure out like what it is. It’s gonna be like our acquisition machine. So that’s why we do growth marketing. So a lot of the same practices that a growth pod might have, we do just in the context of marketing, right?
We are the growth pod.
Yes. Everybody’s best interest is like, how do we help the company grow? Because you know, otherwise what are you doing here, I guess?
Totally. Yeah. If it’s a good company.
And I see like the marketing arm of that as like, how do you put all of these efforts out into the world?
How do you make everybody in the company who’s trying to achieve this singular goal? How do you make them look good? How do you let people know that you know that this is being done for their benefit without sounding like, I’m doing it for you.
Faith (33:22): Right back to storytelling.
It’s all storytelling. The most powerful skill for a non-technical person in the game.
Well, Faith, is there anything else you wanna share about growth marketing and Gun?
No. I mean, I would say like, I come from a super nontraditional background. I was an eighth grade teacher. I worked in like international NGOs before this. So I would say if, you know, you are founding a business, you’re thinking about growth, if you are somebody who wants to get into growth marketing yourself, I would just say like, read as much as you possibly can. Learn as much as you possibly can. There’s a ton of awesome resources, people way smarter than me that I’ve learned from. So just take, you know, I would say like an hour a day and just ingest, start with Traction for sure.
You know, we didn’t validate—so here’s what I’ll say about Faith’s tenure. Faith, I think you started, we were doing like half a million in top line revenue, something like that, right? Yeah. Maybe half a mil top line this year on track for 10 or 12 in top line million. And so that’s, I don’t know, 20x fold increase in revenue over the last some odd years. So, you know—four years—you’re counting every day, I see. I’m just fucking with you.
No, I just know I’m dangerously close to hitting 200 Wayfair episodes. But yeah, that’s 20 full growth in four years. It’s pretty good
Yeah. That’s solid. And so a lot of this stuff has—is not just theory. It’s like stuff that’s come outta your experience and presiding over that growth, and in many cases, you know, inducing that growth. So…
Yeah. Well, I have not done it alone. I’m obviously very thankful for the team here and the the space to do it. I think if you have an opportunity to work on a team where there’s a lot of room for experimentation and creativity, definitely take it. Because I think that’s why we’ve had so much fun here and obviously had so much success.
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