Lars Lofgren on The Principles of Early-Stage Startup Growth

L

Today, I’m talking with Lars Lofgren, the Senior Director of Growth at I Will Teach You To Be Rich and an all around expert on B2B growth.

Lars helps companies build out new channels and optimize existing ones to give them predictable ways to find and accelerate their growth.

The plan originally was to cover how Lars approaches growth on a strategic level and then dig into the A/B testing program he has used to help companies triple their conversion. But things changed once we got started.

While Lars shared his approach to growth, as we started talking, it was clear that A/B testing simply isn’t the right tool for early-stage startups. Even Groove, the company I work for with over $5 million ARR, is too early for this advice.

So we changed things up.

Today, Lars covers what an early testing approach could look like, but this episode is about much more than testing. Instead, we shifted the conversation and Lars laid out the principles for early-stage startup growth and the best way to get started.

Subscribe on iTunes

Topics covered:

  • (00:04) – Lars discusses his background and his quick rise to prominence as a leading marketing authority.
    • (00:41) – A few of his keys to success.
      • (00:42) – Staying proactive.
      • (00:57) – Being self-critical.
      • (01:16) – Developing plans to continually move things forward.
    • (02:16) – Lars’ perspective on the effectiveness of campaigns.
      • (03:20) – The difficulty in maintaining over the long-term without built in systems.
  • (04:35) – System Thinking
    • (04:35) – Defining ‘systems’.
      • (04:42) – Provides consistent benefits rather than one-offs.
      • Automated and delegated.
    • (05:30) – How to prioritize which systems to put in place first.
      • (05:45) – The importance of starting with a foundation built on data.
      • (07:15) – The danger in fragmenting your attention.
  • (07:33) – Engines of Growth
    • (07:33) – Quality.
      • (07:52) – Steps in your funnel that serve as assets for leads.
        • (08:16) – A/B testing to enhance the quality of that step.
    • (08:35) – Volume.
      • Eventually becomes the main bottleneck.
  • (09:36) – A/B Testing
    • (09:36) – The issues with A/B testing.
      • (09:56) – Lack of data; team not in place; lack of infrastructure; lack of time and resources; no desire or culture.
      • (10:11) – Qualitative versus quantitative approaches.
        • (11:37) – How to know when to move from qualitative to quantitative.
        • (12:21) – The series of checklists that Lars makes use of.
          • (12:37) – “Is the fundamental business model healthy?”
          • “Is there true product market fit?”
          • “Is the market well defined?”
          • “is it profitable?”
      • (13:18) – When A/B testing can be a waste of time and resources.
    • (14:37) – Discussing what a full testing team looks like.
      • (14:53) – The roles involved.
        • (15:13) – Engineers and designers.
        • (15:13) – Project manager focused on optimization.
      • (15:44) – Whether or not early-stage startups should consider having a growth team.
        • (16:30) – When to consider putting together a growth team.
          • User-based growth model.
          • (17:01) – 50+ employees.
    • (17:15) – Why to consider holding off on quantitative testing.
      • (17:48) – Time and resource heavy.
    • (18:23) – The ‘correct’ way to build an A/B testing program.
      • (18:49) – Starting with infrastructure.
        • The ability to track your test all the way to the main revenue event.
          • (20:12) – How data can mislead without this complete tracking.
  • (22:12) – Marketing with Impact
    • (22:18) – Initial questions you need to ask.
      • (22:18) – How did we get our first customers?  Where did they come from?  What channel is currently working?
    • (22:28) – Start by building one distribution channel that works
    • (22:53) – A different approach to A/B testing.
      • (23:30) – When they are most appropriate.
    • (26:47) – Advice for early-stage entrepreneurs for actively working towards increasing the effectiveness of their content as an acquisition channel.
      • (26:59) – Determine your goal.
      • Do they enjoy making the content?  If yes, then simply do more of it.
      • (27:20) – Understanding the different levels of competition.
    • (29:06) – Developing content to scale your business.
      • (29:20) – Building your channel to where you can hand it off.
        • (29:34) – The difficulties therein.
        • (30:22) – The rarity of talent.
      • (30:40) – Why you need a playbook developed before you can hand off your channel.
  • (31:37) – What Lars is currently building at I Will Teach.
    • (31:55) – Leading the product team.
    • (32:25) – The factors that led him to shift towards the product side of development.
    • (34:12) – The biggest challenge Lars has faced in the transition.
      • (34:28) – Developing best practices for curriculum based problems.
    • (35:57) – Advice Lars would like to have received on his first day with the company.
      • (36:10) – How to make a playbook and hand it off to marketers.
        • (37:45) – The books and content that helped Lars through the transition and challenges.

Rapid-fire Questions:

  • (39:20) – What do you spend too much time doing?
  • (39:45) – What do you not spend enough time doing?

Resources mentioned:

  • “Lynch Pin” by Seth Godin:  Number one recommended book from Lars.  (01:57)
  • “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore:  Book that Lars wishes he had read earlier in his career to assist in effective A/B testing.  (26:08)
  • Recommended reading list from LarsLofgren.com.  (37:52)
  • “Only the Paranoid Survive” by Andrew Grove:  Recommended book.
  • “It’s Your Ship” by Michael Abrashoff:  Recommended book.
  • “Turn Your Ship Around” by L. David Marquet:  Recommended book.
  • “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin:  Recommended book.

Where to learn more:

If you want to learn more from Lars or reach out and get in touch, you can find him at his blog at LarsLofgren.com or on Twitter @LarsLofgren.

Transcript:

Andy:  Lars, thanks so much for coming on the show today.

Lars:  0:00:03.7  Yeah, happy to be here.

Andy:  0:00:04.2  So, I want to talk first about your background at Kissmetrics.  When I was looking over things, and I’ve heard you speak plenty of times, but when I was looking over your LinkedIn, you went from being a marketing analyst who was building blog posts and support videos to becoming the Director of Growth and Head of Marketing in under three years.  How did that happen?

Lars:  0:00:21.3  Yeah, that’s a big question.  I ask myself that too.  I’m not entirely sure.  But yeah, I went from just doing blog posts and then three years later I found myself leading a marketing team, going to board meetings, and you know, basically leading the department.  Which was exciting and very, very stressful and quite the wild ride.

0:00:41.0  I mean, this is an entire book in itself, but a couple things that I always try to do.  I’m enormously proactive.  So I always try to say, ok what is my boss – what’s keeping them up at night and how can I just go solve that problem.

0:00:57.7  I’m also incredibly self-critical.  So, I’m always iterating and you know, voicing my flaws.  And like, “I screwed up this” or “this isn’t working” or “this needs to go in a new direction”.  I will state that before anybody else even has a chance to look at what I’m doing and saying it’s broken.  Right?

0:01:16.3  And then I already have a plan to move it forward.  So I don’t have the ego, I try not to or I try to suppress it as much as I possibly can.  And then I’m willing to throw any of my own work out if it’s not working.  An extreme sense of ownership, very proactive, heavy communication, and trying to make those around me, you know, their jobs as easy as possible.  0:01:42.8  So those are sort of – a couple of things I talk about.

Andy:  0:01:43.5  Right.  And I mean, not to get too psychoanalytical about it, but is that something that was natural for you.  That mindset of always improving, of iterating, of being proactive.  That thing.  Was that something you’ve cultivated over the years?

Lars:  0:01:57.5  Yeah, I think it’s mostly just something I naturally do.  Some of the books that have – that helped me, I think “Lynch Pin” from Seth Godin I read really, early on.  But I thought that book was fantastic.  That’s probably kind of the – if I was going to give one book, that’s probably it.

Andy:  0:02:16.0  And then one thing that stood out to me from your MicroConf talk early this year, which actually caused me to reach out to you, is that you were talking about how as a marketer, you don’t care about campaigns.  And that, I think, ties into just who you are as a person.  Your personality and how you approach things in general. 0:02:34.5  But for listeners, can you expand on what you mean by that?

Lars:  0:02:37.6  Yeah so, I’ve worked with a lot of really talented marketers.  Keaton Shaw, Neal Patel, now Ramit Sethi and I know a lot of other folks in the space that are very, very talented and you know, something that I’ve noticed with a lot of marketers, especially even really talented marketers, they get really, really good at driving amazing campaigns.

0:02:59.4  They do a digital product launch or a feature launch and they know everyone, they have the right network, they have the position, they have the copy down, they know how to push all the levers in their funnel and then create a tremendous amount of excitement in a very short amount of time.

And that stuff is truly magical, especially for the folks that play that game at a very, very high level.  0:03:20.7  The problem is, you know, and that’s great in the early days, because it gets you on the map – the problem is, ok now you have to run this company or sell this product year in and year out and you’re starting to get five years in, seven years in.

0:03:48.9And sooner or later, no matter how good you are at running a particular campaign, if you’re not building the system to sort of build that staircase as you go along – sooner or later you’re going to be putting every once of sweat you possibly have into just treading water.

0:03:54.9  And marketing teams get sucked into this trap a lot.  It’s like a campaign mill where they just run.  They run from one campaign to the next and you get a lot of juice and a lot of growth early on, because you just start stacking campaigns next to each other.

But sooner or later, you run out of hours in the day, or you run out of calendar space, or you run out of something and you simply can’t get to that next level.  0:04:18.9  So instead, I like to focus on the systems and I like knowing that the work I’m doing today is going to make Lars – 30 days from now, it’s going to make him happy.  It’s going to make his job easier.  Right?  And so every month I’m building on top of the last month.

Andy:  0:04:35.5  And just to be clear, when you say ‘systems’, kind of what are you referring to?  What is a system to you?

Lars:  0:04:42.6  Yeah, a system to me, or I guess an easy way for how I separate it is, a system is going to keep benefiting me month in and month out.  If I do something, and I’m going to get the benefit in a single spike, that’s not really a system.  Right?

0:04:57.1  I know there’s some great 0:04:56.8  [Inaudible] and you know, you can – there’s definitely campaigns you can run and then maybe you start stacking them, or you turn it into a consistent system where you do get the benefit every single month or every other week or every week, or every quarter, or whatever the cadence is.

But still, you start thinking of that system level.  What does it require to run this thing even if it’s a promotion type?  What does it require to run this thing on a very regular cadence without any fires, without me having to muscle it through.  You know, everything’s either automated or delegated.  What does that require?  0:05:28.1  That’s sort of that next level up, that system’s thinking.

Andy:  0:05:30.2  And so, when you have worked with clients, at your job and at your current job at I Will Teach, how do you decide, how do you prioritize what systems to put in place first?  Where to focus, how do you think about that question?

Lars:  0:05:45.8  Yeah, this is another big, broad question.  Generally, like the first thing I usually completely revamp from the ground up is data.  And attribution.  I will ramp leads, revenue, house bookings, or you know, your revenue.  Retention.  All those core metrics of the company.  How is it being tracked, where is it being tracked, the exact queries and definitions of everything.

0:06:11.2 It sounds a little too detail oriented or just like a pain, and it is, but I will say that the vast majority of people have not spent the time that they need to spend on their data in order for anything to be clean and accurate.  0:06:27.6  And I think that’s a very common refrain.  Like the data’s always totally screwed up and it actually is.

So, it takes a tremendous amount of work.  Even – the amount of work that goes into just giving an accurate revenue number for the month is ridiculous.  Right?  Especially for a scaling or it has multiple products and has been around for awhile.

So, that’s usually my starting point, just so that I can see what’s going on, what’s working and what’s not.  0:06:54.8  And then how I decide to build systems – you know marketing, especially in those happy product market fit and you’re sort of going through that initial scaling phase.  The number one strategy or tip I have on marketing I got this from Keaton Shaw and he says this a lot too, is “Figure out what works and just do more of it.”

0:07:15.8  You know, a lot of people fragment their attention on marketing way, way, way too early.  You know, every channel can get tapped out, but usually that’s much further down the line than you think.  So don’t get bored, don’t chase shiny objects, just double down and keep scaling what’s working.  Whatever’s working, build a really methodical system behind it.

Andy:  0:07:33.7  And one of the things you had also mentioned was how you see, kind of, two different engines for growth.  You see volume, and you see quality as being different drivers.  And having different, I guess, impacts.  There are different reasons why you want to focus on one over the other.  And so can you speak to that as well?

Lars:  0:07:52.5  Yeah.  So what you’ll find is, depending on the step of the funnel, or the nature of that funnel, you’ll either have an asset that you use repeatedly, think of like the main CTA on your website.  It could be a PDF, it could be your signup flow, a demo request flow.  Your leads are going to go through that flow over and over and over and over again.

0:08:16.6  The goal is to either through A/B testing or just from a qualitative perspective, to enhance the quality of that step as much as possible.  Because you don’t need several different demo flows.  You really only need one.  Right?  If people want a demo, they’ll ask for a demo.  You want to keep doubling down on quality over time.

0:08:35.3  Other steps of the funnel are very volume based.  So yeah, you want to get the quality up in order to be competitive, but at a certain point, the main bottleneck is going to be how much of X do you produce within a given time period.  Right?

0:08:50.6  An example – a blog post is the easiest example, but even social.  You know, how much – how many engaging social posts can you do within a certain time period.  It is very, very volume based.

0:09:00.9  And so, you know, I try to make sure that I’m very, very aware of the channel that I’m playing in and what is the inherent characteristics of that channel.  Is it fundamentally a volume game or is it fundamentally a quality game.  0:09:17.0  And then they both require different systems in order to fully maximize the benefit at that step of the pump.

Andy:  0:09:23.1  And then, for the quality game, and that really comes down to conversions.  When it comes down to that side of things, is that truly just A/B testing, or is there more to it?  Or what do you think about things for on the quality side of it.

Lars:  0:09:36.7  Yeah, it’s not just A/B testing.  And I’ve done a tremendous amount on the conversion optimization side, and A/B testing, and multiple growth teams.  And that is certainly one kind of lever or one tool that you can push.

But for whatever reason – actually most cases, people aren’t going to be able to take advantage of A/B testing.  We can talk about that.  0:09:56.5  But you know, they don’t have the data, the team isn’t in place, they don’t have the infrastructure, they don’t have the time or resources, there isn’t the just the desire within the team.  There isn’t the culture to adopt it.

0:10:11.8  So you run into all these problems.  So in many cases, you’ll have to – you’re trying to improve quality, but you’re actually going to take it from a qualitative approach as opposed to a very extreme data driven approach.

0:10:25.0  And, in fact it’s usually best to just work on the qualitative side first, get to a pretty solid level.  And you know, just getting – you can still get a lot of wins even without having a super methodical, disciplined A/B testing process.

0:10:39.6  Just putting that item or putting that step in front of other people, you know batches of five to ten customers at a time, asking for feedback.  Like if they start getting excited about something, you know you’re on the right track.  If they’re like, “Eh” about it, or telling you that it’s “good” or “nice”, then you still have a lot of work to do.

Andy:  0:10:55.5  I see.  So for the qualitative stuff, it’s not necessarily going and just making sure you have this long list of industry best practices, because a lot of times those don’t work for everybody – for most businesses.  You want to keep that in mind, but a lot of it is getting out there, putting out these tests in front of what might not be a significant audience, but it’s still your core audience.

And just trying to gauge where things are at, because at the end of the day, if you don’t have a lot of traffic, if you don’t have the systems in place to really build it out, that’s the best that you can do.  0:11:26.9  But that is better than nothing, it seems like is what you’re saying.

Lars:  0:11:28.7  Yeah.  Yup, yup.  And you’ll know when you hit something.  You’ll know when you hit a nerve.

Andy:  0:11:35.1 [Edit]  And when, if – I guess a better question is before this next one is 0:11:37.9 [Edit out]  How do you know when it’s time to move beyond that qualitative stage and really get into the quantitative side of A/B testing?

Lars:  0:11:46.5  Yeah, this is something that I’ve done a lot of re-evaluation over, over the last year or so.  You know, I used to be an enormous proponent of A/B testing, you know, back at Kissmetrics, I wanted to A/B test absolutely everything.  And you know, I still do.  If I could just run non-stop A/B tests, I think that would be my perfect dream job.  0:12:07.4  I truly, truly enjoy it.

However, from a strategic or business perspective, I’ve now been a bit more humble on how often, and when an A/B testing program can truly move a business forward.  0:12:21.7  So there’s now – I need to do a lot more thinking on this and put together a really nice framework.

But now I’m beginning to think through kind of a series of checklists that I run through myself before I’ll even consider building a full program.  0:12:37.3  The first one is, you know, is the fundamental business model healthy?  And you know, that includes a number of things.  You know, is there true product market fit?  Is the market well defined? Are you the – either do you have line of sight on being the market leader in that category?  Do you have  — is it profitable?  Do you at least have, you know, again, a line of sight on being profitable?  0:13:00.1  And sort of these basic items of a well-functioning, growing business.

And, in many cases, especially startups, you know you get some of those variables, but not all of them.  Or you push your way, you know, you get two out of the three, or three out of the four, and then you start muscling your way through the last one, hoping to make it to the next round of funding.

0:13:18.4  And, if you don’t have all those items checked off, and if you don’t have a truly functioning, healthy business, you – if you queue up an A/B testing program before that, frankly, it’ll just be a distraction and a waste of time.  If something fundamental is broken in the business, A/B testing will not get you out of it.

And I think Twitter is a fantastic example.  0:13:44.3  Twitter has a growth team, or at least it did.  A lot of the previous Facebook folks went over to Twitter and helped build out the their growth team, and yet Twitter continues to struggle today.  Right?

And it’s because of a fundamental reason.  0:13:58.2  Now we can go back and forth on what we think the reason might be, and the solution and we probably won’t be wrong and that’s fine, but the point is, regardless of what the solution is, or if there is a solution, they’re not going to get to it through A/B testing.

0:14:11.1  And if you are at a business that is struggling or isn’t where it truly needs to be, I would strongly advise you stop worrying about A/B testing and you go do the work that actually needs to be done.

Andy:  0:14:22.4  Right.  There are much bigger fish to fry to say the absolute basic.  Like you might be able to get some marginal wins from the A/B testing campaign, it’s not that it can’t help, but that’s trying to – you’re bailing out a sinking ship and it’s – one bucket of water is not going to be enough.

0:14:37.5  And so, one thing I wanted to ask though, what does, in your mind, like a full testing team look like?  When you say going all in on A/B testing, really building out an A/B testing program, how intense is that?  Like, how big of a program is that?

Lars:  0:14:53.3  I can get away with three people on the team.  Or if I’m one of the people, then maybe on or two other people.  Or even if I’m handing it off.  If I build the team myself and have spent quite a bit of time working with those folks and training them up.  I have built growth teams as small as three people.

0:15:13.7  And generally, you need an engineer or two, a designer and then either having one of them moonlight as the team lead, or maybe you have a fourth, sort of like a – basically it’s a product manager role focused on optimization.  Right.  So you can keep it really small.  The people – you see these team lists out there that are like copywriters and team engineers and business analysts and all that is a waste of overhead in my perspective.  You can keep it really, really lean if you do it right.

Andy:  0:15:44.5  Ok.  And for those roles, you touched on it a little bit, but in say an early stage startup with maybe a team of ten or even fifteen, where a lot of those are developers, they’re still in the early stages, so they’re getting some traction, but the devs are heads down working on the backlog and can’t devote a lot of resources to that, and there’s probably not a big marketing team either.

Do you expect the team members of this growth team to be exclusively focused on that or are they going to be juggling other responsibilities or I guess the better question might be, should they just be focused on that and not worry about other things?

Lars:  0:16:24.7  Yeah, at that stage, I would – I highly doubt I would build a growth team.

Andy:  0:16:27.6  Ok.

Lars:  0:16:30.5  Maybe – basically, the main situation where you might build a growth team earlier, is if you have a truly user-based growth model.  And not that you’re trying to build one, but that one already exists.

So, I mean, you know all the consumer – major consumer tech companies fall into this category.  Things like Skype or Facebook, or Twitter, or you know, Slack.  Right?  Highly viral.  You essentially don’t need marketing and your core growth engine is going to be users or referrals and invites and that sort of thing.  It’s already baked into the product.

0:17:01.6  You might get a team focused on it earlier, but you know ten to fifteen, that’s still a very small company.  I haven’t built out growth teams until we were well into the 50s and beyond.  And even I thought that was a little on the early side.

Andy:  0:17:15.6  When you say that, when you say that, does that mean no quantitative testing at all?

Lars:  0:17:23.7  Yeah, I probably wouldn’t do it, and the reason being, unless you know — one, if I was at the company, it would be a little bit different because I know how to run a lot of these systems right, so if you have a really deep background in A/B testing and conversion optimization – how to do this stuff right, you know, the answer can be different.

You can do it earlier because you know how to get the infrastructure in place, you know what the reporting needs to be, you know how to make actually decent decisions based off a test.

0:17:48.5  But if this is brand new to you, that stuff takes a long time and a lot of resources to work through, and it’s generally better to just hold off until you have the luxury to make a lot of those mistakes and then work your way through it.  0:18:02.0  And that luxury is usually much further down.

Andy:  0:18:03.4  And so, I don’t want to do this to give founders or smaller teams an excuse to dive into A/B testing, but I am curious to talk with you about what you think the right way to approach it is. Because if you’re in the startup world, at all interested in marketing, if you’re a startup founder, whatever, you know what A/B testing is.

0:18:23.9  But chances are also that you’re probably not thinking about it the right way and if you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.  So, can you walk us through what you see as the correct way of actually building out an A/B testing program?

Lars:  0:18:36.7  Yeah.  So there’s a couple things that go into it and I have a set of rules for actually how to make decisions based on the tests.  But before you even run any tests, there’s a number of things you absolutely have to have in place.

0:18:49.3  The first one is, I mentioned this a couple of times, but the right infrastructure.  And what I mean by that, is regardless of which tools you use, or you know the exact structure of your data of your company, you want to make sure that you can run an A/B test, and this is where I’ve cut corners on the past – I regretted it – but you want to make sure you can run an A/B test and regardless of where that A/B test is in your funnel, no matter how far up the funnel it is, you can track it all the way down to purchase.  Or whatever the main revenue event is.

What a lot of folks do, and I have made this exact mistake myself, but what a lot of folks will do, is they’ll take some other conversion event higher up the funnel…

Andy:  0:19:35.1  Like an email opt in or something like that.

Lars:  0:19:35.6  Like an email opt in is an easy one, or free trial sign up, demo request – something that happens during the same session of that the A/B test is actually occurring on.  And then they’ll assume that ok, if that event goes up, you know good.

An email is worth approximately X for this company, so you know we’ve grown revenue by this much and you know, good things will happen.  Or even if we don’t, you know, even if it doesn’t carry all the way down, some of it will carry down.  And I can speak personal experience that it is far more likely that it doesn’t do anything.

0:20:12.1  And you will get – you basically take whatever that conversion metric is, whether it’s email opt ins, free trial sign ups, whatever.  And if you go aggressively enough on that conversion event, without looking further down the funnel, what will happen is you – what turns into a good leading indicator of revenue reverses into a vanity metric and becomes simply a waste of time.

0:20:40.4  And I’ve actually two main cases.  I’ve gotten significant lifts at an event.  I’m talking triple, quadruple lifts on an event further up the funnel, and then revenue didn’t budge.  And, you know, it can be really hard to separate out those two things early one, because there’s a lot noisier data, it’s going back and forth.

You don’t really know you have a problem until you’re nine, twelve, sixteen months into the program, and you’ve realized that, “Wow, we tripled this conversion rate, but our revenue hasn’t moved an inch.”  0:21:10.9  Or, you realize that something else is driving revenue growth and this wasn’t doing anything.  So that’s actually the far more common scenario.

0:21:19.4  So I wouldn’t even begin A/B testing until I knew that everything was in place, how I was running the test, how I was attributing those variants to users, and how I was tracking those users all the way down the funnel.  I wouldn’t even thing about an A/B testing program until I had that completely air-tight.

Andy:  0:21:36.8  Ok.  And I mean, I’m – 0:21:41.1 [Edit]  I want to dive in to the A/B testing stuff, but I feel like it’s not necessarily the best fit for so many of the listeners.  And I think it’s something that can be that shiny ball for a lot of them, so say – shifting focus a little bit, say you’re at that point where you are making money, but you still have a small team.  Say, you’re doing, 100k MRR, you have a couple thousand customers but you haven’t really made a huge effort on marketing.

0:22:12.9 So, before worrying about the A/B testing, what would you do?  Where would you start looking?  What types of systems would you think would have the biggest impact?

Lars:  0:22:18.9  Yeah, so that – for a company at that stage, I would start asking around.  On, ok “How did we get our first customers?  Where did they come from?  What channel is currently working?”

0:22:28.9 And my entire goal, if I was on the marketing side of that business, would be how do I build one distribution channel that works and grows every single month? That’s all I would be worried about.  And you can do a tremendous amount of work in there without A/B testing, just by eyeballing your metrics, trying different things.

0:22:53.6  A good rule of thumb that I tell my teams or a lot of the folks that I work with, is – like you can still see – there’s plenty of examples, where you’ll make changes to your funnel, to your marketing, or even when if you’re working in a channel, you change some tactic item, and if you change something that impacts the funnel by 40-50% or above, like you’ll feel it.  Right?  0:23:16.1  You don’t need an A/B test to show it to you?  You can just eyeball the difference.

0:23:30.6  Now you start getting in to the 10-30% range, and it’s going to be hard to eyeball that change or that decrease, whatever it is.  The A/B tests are ideal for that 10-30%.  Now if you want to start looking at changes smaller than 10%, you absolutely need an A/B test, and you also need massive amounts of data.  So those are kind of like the three tiers.

0:23:44.6  And if you’re not going to A/B test, and most people don’t have the ability to do so, you’re basically, you’re working on wins that can, you know, increase that step of the funnel, or move your business by, you know, a 50% spike all at once.  Or you know, a 30 to 40% or something like that.  0:24:03.2  And so you’re going after big changes, you’re going to try, you know, completely different approaches to items, and you will know when you’ve hit it.  0:24:12.2

Andy:  0:24:12.3  I see.  I see.  So again, it goes back to you’re still testing, but you’re taking a different approach with it.  You’re going for those bigger wins rather than simply changing out a couple headlines.

Lars:  0:24:23.9  Yeah.  Well, actually headlines, they can actually be one of the big…But like CTA copy or we’re going to change this paragraph to that paragraph and layouts on home pages or landing pages.  I don’t spend any time on that.  Those are just a sinkhole of time.  The majority of tests are a complete waste of time.  “Should we use these social pro logos, or those…” Doesn’t fucking matter.  But yeah, you’re – value props, the main hook.  The hooks, the value props, the positioning, all that stuff matters in a really big way.

0:24:57.2  And then every once in a while we you’re working in a channel, you will find some tactical lever that is the key to unlocking it.  But you got to cycle through a lot of different things until you find it.

Andy:  0:25:03.9  Yeah.  And that’s sort of what we’ve been starting with at Groove.  We’re not fully ready to dive in to a true A/B testing program, but by talking to a ton of our customers and trying to get a better feel for their language and for how they view the product, and why – what features they care about.  Not features, but what benefits and what drives them to us over some of the competitors.

0:25:29.5  It’s allowed us to kind of, start coming up with some pretty radically different messaging on our marketing page.  Not necessarily – like I said before, with the headlines, it’s not just changing a couple words, it’s really just changing out the value prop that we’re getting at.

0:25:47.1  And so, it seems like a good strategy for us, is to run those as tests, see what happens, but don’t spend too much time trying to make those tweaks when there are other areas that we could really be focused on.  0:25:59.8

Lars:  0:26:00.0 Yeah, and a great book, I just read it, I wish I’d read this book a lot earlier in my career, but I found that, “Crossing the Chasm” [Resource 0:26:08.4]  to be very, very helpful working through a lot of those exact items.

Andy:  0:26:12.4  And one thing I wanted to get back to a little bit is you had talked about really just doubling down on a channel.  And for a lot of people, especially in the MicroConf crowd, channels are things they haven’t been thinking about – I guess at too much of a sophisticated level.  The biggest channel that they’re going to have is going to be content.  It’s going to be organic.

0:26:38.2  And they haven’t really been very deliberate about how to increase that.  Maybe they’re tried a few different things, but it hasn’t been anything resembling a system at all.

0:26:47.1  So if you were in that spot of one of the MicroConf attendees, how would you work on increasing — actively working towards increasing the effectiveness of your content as an acquisition channel?

Lars:  0:26:59.8  Well so there’s a lot a lot of items that factor into this decision and where people go.  The first one is, what is the ultimate goal of this person?  Like do they enjoy content?  Do they enjoy spending a significant amount of their time on it?  If the answer is yes, then simply do more of it.  0:27:18.4  Right?  Assuming your quality is good.

0:27:20.4 And then, depending on the exact channel, the games can get very, very different.  There’s also entirely different bars that need to be hit, or bars of competition that need to be hit on different channels.

0:27:33.9  For example, the SEO blog post game these days has gotten very, very competitive.  Even as, you know, I’ve only been – I only left Kissmetrics a few years ago, and even the game has significantly, radically changed since then.

I used to tell people you just have to get great quality content, post super consistently over a long period of time and good things will happen.  I no longer believe that’s the case.  0:27:59.2  If you’re not willing to go all in on link building and keyword research and technical SEO on top of doing high volume, high quality content, like don’t even bother playing.

0:28:10.3  But you know, YouTube is different, Amazon is different, Quora is different, podcasting, which is the hot and sexy one right now, and 0:28:19.1 [Inaudible – glitch] into.  You know, they all add to different parts of quality at slightly different levers.

But you know, so – I would find – if you’re running your own business, you’re on the smaller side, you intend to stay on the smaller side, and you enjoy writing the content, I would say pick a channel that is a really good fit for you and for the types of content you like to create and also try to pick a content channel that is not as developed or evolved, where the competition is a little bit easier.

You know, podcasting, seems like everybody’s getting into it, but for the folks that are really good at it, there’s still time to separate yourselves from the rest of the pack.  0:29:03.5  Blogging is not that case.  Right?  You’ve got to be all in or don’t even play.  0:29:06.7

Andy:  0:29:06.0  And breaking with that a little bit, if you don’t necessarily want to always run a smaller business, if you do have dreams of achieving at least some levels of scale, how would that shift your approach?

Lars:  0:29:20.1  Yeah, well then you’ve got to be – you’ve got to build the channel to the point where you can hand the whole thing off to someone else.  And this is enormously difficult.  Everyone struggles with this.  It’s something that I’ve struggled with in the past.

0:29:34.5  Basically, you have to be very – so most marketers – or let’s say you’re building a company or you’re BC backed and you’re trying to get to ten people and then 15, and then 1000, 1000, and on your way.

You are – you know, eventually that marketing team is going to be full of marketers and it’s not going to be full of a couple of founders that are highly iterative and you know – there are some folks that work at businesses that can basically build play books from scratch, and occasionally you find marketers out there that can build a playbook for a brand new channel from scratch.

0:30:06.4  They can go from not having learned a channel at all to dominating that channel, on their own, without any assistance.  Those folks are rare.  Are very, very rare.  In fact, those folks, that if they’re that good and they know they’re that good, they’re probably building their own thing.

0:30:22.6  So, by nature, they’re hard to find and hard to employ.  So you basically – what I personally failed at, is I’ve taken a channel that is either half-way developed, or a channel that was actually collapsing or the game had changed on that channel and we need to start over from scratch.

0:30:40.1  And I’ve tried to hand that entire channel off to someone without having a built in playbook.  It was already working and established.  0:30:47.3  That is a very, very dangerous and risky move.  And the majority of marketers that you can get and will get in your company to work on that channel, if they don’t have a working playbook to plug into the, the majority of them unfortunately will drown.

0:31:05.0  It takes a very, very unique person to either build something from scratch, go through that zero to one and then one to ten, or to take something that’s collapsing and turn it around.  0:31:15.0

Andy:  0:31:14.8  And so, you’re someone though, who has had success building some of these playbooks.  Why haven’t you gone out and built your own thing?

Lars:  0:31:22.8  That is the eternal question.  That’s a question I ask myself on a regular basis.  Basically, it’s just for right now, having the stability family wise is nice.  And then I’m sure sooner or later, I’ll do my own thing.

Andy:  0:31:37.1  And so right now I’m curious.  At I Will Teach, I know things are a bit different, it’s not a SaaS model.  It’s not a software business.  I’m still curious though, what playbook are you trying to build on now?  What is the white whale for you?  What are you really trying, heads down trying to figure out right now?

Lars:  0:31:55.1  Yeah, so these days I actually – my role has evolved and I’m spending less – I still do a little on the marketing side or acquisition side, and I’m doing a lot more on the product side.  So, I’m actually leading the product team now.  And turning are processes into a very consistent playbook where we can just bang out hit product after hit product.  0:32:21.1  That is the main challenge that is on my plate.

Andy:  0:32:25.0  What led you to take that shift towards the product side?  Because this does seem like you’re still having the systems mindset that is so ingrained in you.  But what caused that shift over to the product side?

Lars:  0:32:35.8  Yeah, a couple things.  Well, you know what I’ve noticed as a larger industry trend, is a lot of folks with growth backgrounds are ending up as VP’s of product or heads of product.  I think the LinkedIn product team is basically just one giant growth team.  0:32:53.2  One and the same.  I’ve noticed that I think Andy Johns, who was on growth at Facebook and then Twitter, and then went over to Wealthfront, I think he’s head of product now as well.

0:33:04.3  I was hearing from someone else, I think some of the folks over at Udemy have gone through that transition.  Or maybe I’m making that up.  I keep hearing references and it’s a trend I’m starting to notice.  It’s sort of happened to me too.

0:33:15.9  And I think the way this goes down is, you know, the team is looking for – growth folks get various systems oriented and they get very data orientated, regardless of whether it’s a qualitative or quantitative approach.  And they’re very user focused, but also very, very you know, revenue and business focused at the same time.

0:33:33.7  So they’re sort of looking at both sides of the coin from the beginning.  And I think that’s evolved to make a very good candidate for someone that’s trying to scale up a product team to actually also grow the business at the same token.

0:33:49.7  So, it’s just sort of a – I think it’s a natural fit when there’s a need for that position in the business.

Andy:  0:33:55.4  Right.  And it does seem like someone who is going to excel on the growth side of things and has that mindset to keep improving to keep building up these systems.  If they keep at it, they’re going to evolve their own capabilities, so I see it as a clear kind of overlap and what it takes to succeed in either of those.

0:34:12.8  So one thing I wanted to ask though, in that transition, what has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced?

Lars:  0:34:19.0  [Edit]  Yeah, I don’t know if there’s been too much – let’s see, big challenges?

Andy:  0:34:25.6  Just been execution?  Just like.

Lars:  0:34:27.0  Yeah.  0:34:28.0  [Edit out?]  The big challenge for us is we have – actually, so most of the listeners will not go through this.  Because their SaaS, or consumer tech, or they’re some sort of model out there.

And there’s a tremendous amount of material and best practices that have been put together for product development in a tech company.  0:34:52.4  Every minute step of the flow, there’s more than you could ever want.  Wire frames, how to structure customer development interviews, how to get designers and engineers and your product devs working together.  0:35:04.1  You know, none of this are new problems.  Right.

So our product is a little bit different.  It’s not nearly as tech focused.  There’s a little bit of that, but it’s a much smaller item.  0:35:15.9  User flows are not what really drive the business for us.  It’s – they’re info products, so it’s curriculum, it’s videos.  How do we build information that gets people excited and helps them solve their problems.

So where a lot of the problems and a lot of the time we spend on the product team is working through curriculum based problems as opposed to user based problems, or user flows.  0:35:38.8  So, a lot of the best practices and what ‘great’ looks like, we’ve actually had to develop a lot of that ourselves.

Andy:  0:35:44.6  Interesting.  And it’s – from my perspective you started back at I Will Teach teach in April 2015.

Lars:  0:35:53.2  Yeah, that sounds right.  It’s been about two and a half years.  Something like that.

Andy:  0:35:57.0  And so, over that time, obviously you’re someone who’s always learning, but over that time you’ve learned an incredible amount.  What is something that you wish someone had told you or you had just told yourself back on day one of joining this company?

Lars:  0:36:10.8  Yeah, I think the playbook item and how to hand it off to marketers.  Or how to hand off a scaling channel is immensely important.  You know we – I went from having a team, I think when I joined I had six people, then we were down to four and then that grew to about 20 people over the course of a year, year and a half.  Which is a, was a really intense, crazy period.

And I made a number of really critical mistakes in scaling kind of that marketing org.  0:36:38.3  And then handing it off to other managers.  And certain programs were not built out or systemized enough, or healthy enough in order to make that hand off a smooth transition.

So, now you’re either at this current business or where any other business I work on in the future, if I was on the marketing side, or even on the product side, and I’m looking to hand off entire sections of the product, I’m going to be much, much more paranoid about how healthy is this?  How built out is the playbook?  How consistently does the playbook work, and if I am worried about any of those items, I am probably not going to hand it off to the manager and simply hold them accountable for some metric or some OKR 0:37:23.2 [Confirm] of some kind.  Right?  0:37:24.5  I’m not – I’m very, very careful about who I hand off or how healthy the playbook is before I hand it off.

Andy:  0:37:31.8  And so, obviously trial by fire you’re going to have to have a lot of these learnings.  You’re going to figure things out on your own.  But you’re someone who I know always looks to experts.  People who have gone through it before.

0:37:45.5 Who, or what books, or what content out there in general helped you in kind of get through that stretch of figuring that out?

Lars:  0:37:52.5  Yeah so, well one, if anybody wants the full list of recommendations on my blog, LarsLofgren.com.  I actually have a reading list, it’s in the navigation.  On – every book I’ve read as well as whether or not I’ve recommended it.

There’s probably a couple hundred books in there at this point.  0:38:11.8  So I usually read about a book every – these days I’m probably at a book every week, week and a half, and so I’m always looking for new ones.  0:38:22.1  Let’s see, books off the top of my head that would have been enormously helpful, there’s a bunch of management books.  Let’s see, Andy Grove? 0:38:31.8 [Edit out] No.  The guy at Intel?  What’s his name?  0:38:37.3 [Edit out]

“Only the Paranoid Survive”.  That’s a fantastic book.  There’s, “It’s Your Ship” or “Turn Your Ship Around” I actually think those are two books by two folks in the Navy.  They’re very, very good.  “Extreme Ownership” is fantastic.

Let’s see, what else.  Hey there’s a whole list.  I’d check out the blog, there’s dozens of books, I wouldn’t say there’s just a couple that have gotten me through it.  Dozens if not hundreds at this point.

Andy:  0:39:05.1  And you’re right, Andy Grove is, or was the CEO at Intel.  That’s the guy you were thinking of.  But so, before we wrap up, I typically like to ask my guests a handful of rapid-fire questions, but we managed to cram a ton of stuff into this, so I’ll cut it down to just two for now.  0:39:20.6  So the first one is just, currently what do you spend too much time doing?

Lars:  0:39:24.3  Too much time?  [Laughter]  Doing the dishes.  It always takes more time than it needs to.  Work-wise, too much time?  Actually, I think my schedule is pretty healthy at the moment.  So, I’m happy with it.

Andy:  0:39:45.8  The follow up is just the opposite to that.  Are there things where you wish you could dedicate more time towards?

Lars:  0:39:51.9  More time, more time to coaching the team.  More time to learning.  You know, reading more.  Like more blog posts, more in to like, what’s just happening.  What’s super current.  I always never feel like I get enough.  Not enough time at conferences.  Just staying on the cutting edge of what’s working and what’s not.  Ya, never get enough of that.

Andy:  0:40:14.3  Awesome.  And Lars, honestly, this has been a great chat.  We’ve learned a ton, and we shifted things a little bit from the original focus, but I’m glad that we did, because I think this is going to be a much more actionable and approachable episode than if we had just gone straight through the A/B testing stuff.  So I appreciate your flexibility there.  But if listeners enjoyed what they heard, want to learn more from you, want to hear more from you, where are the best places for them to go?

Lars:  0:40:39.1  Yeah.  So I have a fairly inactive blog LarsLofgren.com.  That’s one way.  I’m on Twitter @LarsLofgren, and then if anybody wants to get in touch, they can find me or my email is Lars@LarsLofgren.com.  I’m easy to find.

Andy:  0:40:52.7  Awesome.  I’ll make sure to get all that linked up in the show notes.  And again Lars, thank you so much for your time today.

Lars:  0:40:59.6  Thank you Andy, really appreciate it.