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From $0 to $21M ARR: Our 5 Biggest Marketing F***Ups | Matt Epstein

Have you ever tried something that just didn’t work? Matt Epstein goes through some of the biggest marketing mistakes he has made in his career, so you don’t have to make the same ones!

Key Takeaways

  • Don’t let your limitations limit you. Work first. Worry later.
  • D.R.E.A.M
  • Stretch goals = The Goal (Ask: What if?)
  • Hire for what you need in 3 months
  • Marketing is a rolling stone

Summary transcription

How many of you have heard of Zenefits? We have gone from zero to 21 million and now even further than. I’d like to just kind of talk about our growth because I think it lends a lot of credibility to my fuck-ups, and I think you’ll take them a lot more seriously.

Zenefits went from ten people, to a little over a thousand. In two and a half years, which is pretty fast. As you can imagine, that type of growth can turn anyone bipolar…I have had the lowest of lows with some campaigns, and I’ve have some campaigns that were incredibly incredibly successful. I have unfortunately learned a whole lot more from my fuck-ups and my failures than I have my successes.

Fuck-Up #1: We stopped doing things that didn’t scale

So, the first thing we did wrong, was we stopped doing things at scale. From a product perspective, do things that don’t scale. From a marketing perspective, they don’t really say that for a marketing perspective. One of the things that I learned very early on, was this lesson. This came about when we had this hugely successful email nurturing campaign. It was this amalgamation of tons of dynamic content that was actually custom scraped, and was going great.

Then I was told, I needed to scale this this email campaign. So now every industry, every vertical, and I literally was like, oh my god… Mother of God.. I can’t. There’s no way I can scale this campaign because there’s just way too much customization.

So, immediately I created a universal template that worked across everyone. Except, it turns out, it performed terribly because it had none of the things that made it awesome…

It just can’t be done like that. I can’t scale that thing. So, I made it work for another industry, the architecture industry. The same thing worked incredibly well. So, then I spent all my time on scaling it.

Now we have thousands of people pulling all this custom data, and we have engineering resources behind it. We’ve scaled it into this massive thing. What I learned from that, is you should never let your limitations limit you. The goal is to get things to work first and then worry later. Do the most creative thing you know possible to get to get business. If it’s sending a cupcake with a handwritten letter that gets you leads, do that, and if it works, figure out a way to scale it. There’s always a way to scale things with enough time, money and creativity.

Fuck-Up #2: We listened to each other

The second thing is listening each other which is terrible mistake. Never listen to your co-workers. Nine times out of ten times, that’s a terrible idea. I’m gonna tell you why.

We did this outbound sales development thing. The email thing was doing great and it was time to find a new channel. So, I basically took some of the inbound STRs made them outbound, and we started testing it. It went from three SDRs to five, which was great. Although, eight months later, it turns out that 30% of their demos we’re coming from a segment that we didn’t really want to go after. So, what that really messed us on, was our hiring model because we had basically planned out two years of hiring on an attainment number that was wrong. This then put us behind on hiring. It was a totally unnecessary screw-up. I learned that data rules everything around me and the goal there is, you shouldn’t start and end a conversation with data. People don’t lie, they just think that they they feel something. People just generally think something is going poorly or badly and oftentimes they’re just wrong myself included. So, don’t listen to your co-workers…

Fuck-Up #3: We set realistic goals

We set achievable realistic goals. One day, our founder says, we’re aiming for 10 million customers. We were only at a million, so that’s pretty aggressive. I kind of felt like I could do it. I felt confident, so I said okay. But the next day, he says, we’re going to 20 million. We not only met goal that year, we actually exceeded it, and I learned two things from that. The stretched goal, is always the goal. What I learned from this, is that when people hit a goal, they fall short or go over by a bit. So if you aim for your stretch goal, you’ll always hit the goal. Our founder asked me:

‘What would you do, just theoretically if you had all the money in the world for this goal’ I listed a bunch of things and people I would need to hire. and the next thing I knew, he was saying, ‘why don’t you do that?’

I’d gone from being like there’s no way this thing as possible to signing up for a goal that was ridiculous.** I think if you do that with your teams, your company, your demand generation, I think you’ll often find you do things that you didn’t think you could do. Whereas, when you’re on this comfortable ride to the top, you don’t have that same pressure.**

Fuck-Up #4: We hired people when we needed them

The thing I realized about hiring people when you need them, is that it’s always too late. Our founder said he wanted 10x of something and it was the email marketing, and I realized oh crap I need someone. The moment you need someone, it’s going to take 2–3 months to find that person, weeks to negotiate with that person, and then they’re gonna need two weeks to leave their company… By the time they get in the seat, they’re gonna be setting everything up, and you’ve literally just lost four months. People in the very beginning make or break your company, and if you don’t have that person in their seat, then you’re absolutely done. Hire people that you’re gonna need three months from today.

Fuck-Up #5: We focused on what worked

My biggest fuck-up of all… We had done this outbound SDR thing, and it had worked so well. So, I put all of my team’s energy and all of my energy into into this one channel, and we grew it. Again, all great accelerators come from setting high 10x goals, and we had to do that same type of momentum play. I had only had these two channels. I had email and this SDR thing. And, I had realized that I hadn’t spent the last 18 months looking for all of these other levers to pull. It puts you in a delay that you don’t want to be.

Marketing is a rolling stone. Find that lever that works, and as soon as it shows signs of being scalable, you move on to finding the next lever. We’re very quickly growing the team to basically be able to pull 20 levers at once, so we never find ourselves in a situation like that again.

Related: See the Content distribution mistakes we all make

From $0 to $21M ARR: Our 5 Biggest Marketing F***Ups | Matt Epstein
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