When Wes Bush left a job that he hated, he knew he had to pursue something that would give him the energy and drive to work at it consistently every day.
Within three years of making that decision, he’d written a book, built a coaching program, and launched the Product-Lead Institute.
In this episode, Wes tells me how he got to that point in his career and the influences behind his decisions.
He also reveals his 16-step guide to building credibility.
listen to this episode
- Why Wes treats his LinkedIn profile like a landing page
- What led him to launch his own business
- If you can build demand you can build any business
- How to discover what it is that you truly love to do
- The benefits of specialising in an area
- Doubling down on what gives you the most energy
- How Wes created and ran a course for the CXL Institute
- Why you need to pick a villain in marketing
- Mistakes he made when building his personal brand
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour, and welcome to another episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com. The no fluff, actionable marketing podcasts for people sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host Louis Grenier. In this episode, you will learn how to build a personal brand, how to build credibility starting from almost zero. My guest today believes that buying software has changed over the last several years. It’s not about leading with boring sales calls anymore. It’s about leading with your product. He’s made a name for himself in the last three years by creating the Product-Lead Institute, a book, a community coaching program, training course certificate. I mean, pretty much everything under the sun. And prior to this he was demand generation at B2B SaaS startup called Vidyard.
Louis: But he shares very little about this aspect of the before the Product-Led Institute. And that’s kind of what we’re going to try to uncover today. To get out how he managed to build his credibility and all of that. So Wes Bush, welcome aboard.
Wes: Thanks for having me.
Louis: So before we dive in into understanding how you manage to go from, being yet another marketer in B2B tech, to having a brand associated with you. Having a lot of customers, having a lot of members in your community, having a book published in three years or so. I want to challenge you a bit with something, have you read the book, Eat Your Greens? It’s a marketing book. Have you heard of it?
Wes: No, I haven’t.
Louis: You should read it. It’s pretty good.
Wes: Eat Your Greens.
Louis: Eat Your Green, yeah. And it’s a collection of marketers, basically sharing thoughts on principles of marketing, should I say? So pretty challenging stuff. And one of them shares something like that. He says, “There is a worrying dearth of impressive sounding acronyms in marketing. A newly fabricated institute in an attempt to confer gravitas on what would otherwise be an obvious rehash of a marketing concept that’s been around for decades”. Right? So you created a Product-Led Institute. And I read the book just last week and straight away I was like, okay, I need to ask Wes. So what do you think of this statement to say that institute’s creating nowadays are just bullshit basically.
Wes: So I think there’s a lot of truth to it in the sense of, for marketers specifically, we’re always trying to change people’s perspectives on things. And a lot of that is, there’s, if you really kind of jig the whole thing, you completely surprise people with something completely new, they’re going to be lost. They’re not going to adopt it. And a lot of those, even the startups that are doing that, they usually don’t succeed because they’re not actually close enough to what someone can relate to, or there’s no commonality. So in order to get anyone to change, you do need to have that rehash of like, okay, there is some familiarity to this and maybe 80% of that’s new. Or sorry, 80% of that’s the same. And then the 20% is new in terms of that whole approach, if you’re going to break it down by percentages. So absolutely, I’m with that.
Louis: And what about the Institute part of it?
Wes: So what particular part?
Louis: So he’s talking about in particularly the fact that a lot of marketers create fake institutes. There is like the buyer persona one, you have a product-led. I’m not saying yours is fake, by the way. I’m just saying, that’s what he says. A lot of institutes to add gravitas to the concept. And so the first part anchoring your topic against something, the studies quo, against something that already exists, to make it easier to understand. Absolutely. I mean, that’s just has to be done or else people don’t understand it. People are lazy. Our brains don’t want to use too much energy, completely get that. What about the Institute side of things, you could have named it product-led … fuck I’m blanking, but you know something.
Wes: [crosstalk 00:04:01].
Wes: So I had a good chat with Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute before I was re-evaluating this whole transition. And I loved his perspective so much. I’m like, let’s go ahead with that, because I was at a crux. I’m like, do I invest in like this new brands and change everything, and what do I really call it. And so one of the biggest reasons he had was, sometimes you could market, or spends a good chunk of your marketing budget, just trying to explain what it is that you do. Or you could pick a more boring business name and communicate what it does right away. And so if you pick the latter, it can be a lot easier to quickly show case, this is what we do, and communicate it through that part. So truly that was one of the main reasons behind it. And it has been very effective. And I think institute does seem a little more old school. If I was to go back in time, maybe I might change it to something a little more modern, but that’s where my head was at, at that time.
Louis: Cool. No, I appreciate your honest answer. And before we hit the record button, I told you that I really, really appreciate what you’ve done. And as a marketer, myself, looking at it from a, deconstructing what you’ve done, not super interested in the methodology necessarily, but more into the methodology and how you build this methodology. I have huge respect to what you’ve done and I think we can learn a lot from what you’ve done, which is exactly what I want to know. So if we, if people go to your LinkedIn profile, they can, you can just type Wes Bush, they’ll see very little. They will see a very sharp intro around product-led growth, a very succinct description of the fact that you founded this institute. Nothing else before that, I had to dig a bit to understand that actually. Yeah, you did stuff before, you didn’t just appear from nowhere. But you have a way to, think you’ve on purpose, deleted stuff, remove stuff, to keep a very, very clear messaging all around. Am I making the right assumption?
Wes: Yeah, absolutely. And I treat that LinkedIn page as a landing page. So why should I care about everything else that was before this? Because right now this is all that really matters is the product, the Institute, in terms of work experience. So if someone goes on that page, yeah, it should peak their interest and go to that specific thing. And if you just have too many options, it’s just like, well, what are you trying to prove there? You’re just trying to prove you’re credible, you got more experience. Or do you want someone to take action, visit that site or look more into it? So that was my initial thinking behind it.
Louis: Yeah. It’s the paradox of choice, right? The more options you are given in front of you, the less you’re likely to take action. And the more options you are being given, the more, when you pick an option, you want to, you kind of regret it, because you could have gone for the other one. You don’t know what to do. So it’s interesting. Now let’s try to go back in time a bit because what you’ve created here seems pretty intuitive to you. And you just shared before we started recording that you didn’t think about it that much, but clearly you thought about it way more than most. You’ve managed to build a very strong personal brand, strong business. So let’s go back in time from the time where you’re at Vidyard, and please take me back to the very first time you thought about, shit, I could do something else, I could create. I could create my own business. And let’s try to paint the picture of this journey.
Wes: Well, as it relates to building credibility, it’s kind of funny because if I go through the story, it doesn’t build much credibility. But … So when I was at Vidyard, I was actually really interested in personal branding, even then. I was reading books like Key Person of Influence. And it didn’t really strike me at that time, like, okay, eventually I’m going to build my own business. I was, before even working at Vidyard, even as a kid, a teenager, I always had businesses, whether that’s landscaping or different things like that. So I was in tune with that. Had some good business acumen, but that was basically it. And so in terms of-
Louis: Let me cut to you there. So landscaping, what else did you have as businesses? What else did you do when you were younger?
Wes: Like paper route, that was one of the big ones. And those were, yeah, two of the big ones. And then also lifeguarding, but that’s not a business, so it doesn’t count.
Louis: So you did all that when you were a teenager, like young enough. And then from, between that time and you being in demand gen for Vidyard, what happened between, in between those two events?
Wes: Yeah. So there was university and that was in global business, digital arts, so it was like a super broad program, which was ideal for me since I had other friends and stuff who were doing traditional business programs and they were bogged down in accounting, all that details. I’m like, I hate that stuff. Obviously running your own business, you got to know some accounting, but like that level is just like, that’s scary. And so I was working at those companies, and I think it was second year university where I was, during that summer, still lifeguarding. I was like, I’m not using my brain really, not applying what I have learned. So I wanted to work, well I asked my parents, “Could I work with you? In their business, which was real estate company.
Wes: And I kind of got into Google Ad Words. And so at that point it really opened my eyes around demand gen, digital marketing. It was really just getting started at that point. And so what was cool about that, as I generated some leads, they turn into customers. And when that first customer came through from that campaign, I was hooked, literally, I was so excited. I was like, this is so cool. Because I realized if you can build demand, you can build any kind of business you want. And so that’s what got me into even other internships with other B2B SaaS companies, and then eventually Vidyard, around that particular focus, which was demand gen. So still, at the end of the day, I’m fascinated about demand. I think it’s something that I’m always curious about. What do customers and users really want? And how can you create, whether it’s a product or services around it, to support them in getting that.
Louis: Yeah. And that’s why I asked this question because I think this is the key information that you didn’t share at first, which is super interesting. And something that, to be honest, I’m a bit envious about, is the fact that your parents were business people, right. And when I think of my experience, my parents, my grandparents were all teachers. And what I do now is the opposite of what they know. And I wish sometimes that I was coming from a place where I could have learned about business way earlier. And it’s great, from your perspective, and you kind of intuitively, you’ve grasped this concept of businesses, I would say from a very young age, and thanks to your parents, which is great. What would you say to people who don’t necessarily have this, listen to that, to the episode and feel like they don’t necessarily have the people around them who believe or know what the fuck they are willing to do, what would you tell them? How could they go for it anyway?
Wes: Yeah. And so if I was in that position, I didn’t have the parents, let’s say for that second year where I really got into digital marketing, just try and find some opportunities where you’re going to get paid for it. And you’re going to do something valuable to grow that business. I mean, you could be really fascinated with support, success and all those things, but that’s just where my head goes. So if it’s that other direction, there’s nothing wrong with it at all. It’s just find some problem that you really do … And that goes back to the first big part about how to build credibility, is you need to find that problem that you’re really genuinely solving. And because there’s no faking it, at the end of the day, I’m here because I actually like talking about, whether it’s product growth or some of this stuff around demand gen, it’s fun to me. So I get energy and hopefully it’s contagious. So that’s the part.
Louis: The key, the key word again here, I think is energy. I would describe it the same way. I found huge energy, excuse me, in talking to people like you and just drilling you as much as possible, get to know you, get to know everything about stuff and go very practical. And it’s difficult sometimes for people I think to get back to this. What gives you the most energy? This is a simple question, but it’s actually quite difficult to answer when you think about it. And some people are lost. So to me, the way I would define it is, you are more energized after doing that thing than before.
Louis: I was quite tired two hours ago, but now I feel much better already, because I just like doing this shit. And it’s probably the same for you when you do what you do best, the demand gen and building demand for stuff and making people sign up to your next event or to your newsletter and whatnot. So on that note then, how do you advise people who are not sure about that? What they truly love, what gives them the most energy? How do you advise them finding it?
Wes: Yeah, so I had this exact same problem. There was the first year of the business after Vidyard, I was just following the money basically. And I remember specifically, I think it was January 2017 or 16. And it was the biggest month ever for the business, and I remember sitting at my desk and be like, I hate my job. What did I do? I created this terrible job for me. And so it was that entire year, my theme for it was energy. I wanted to figure out what I could do in my life to really focus on doing the things that really lit me up and get me excited. And so it was really simple, actually. I just created literally a spreadsheet, tried to segment every category of my life. I’m even talking like what I eat, the people I hang out around, the stuff I do for my job.
Wes: And I just go in there regularly and start writing down, hey, checking my email, this is a big, no, no. I should not spend two hours a day doing this. So what are some things I could do to limit that? Or maybe it’s, I don’t know. Some other tasks like accounting that I was mentioning, it’s not a strong suit. So, okay, find a great accountant and offload this. And so by focusing that entire year on energy and just labeling everything, is this positive? Is this negative? I was able to hone in on a lot closer to what I really wanted to do. And energy is the best compass ever for your life, because it’s just going to get you more excited as you get closer. It’s kind of like, you’re looking for, I don’t know, like those Easter eggs, if you do that as a kid or something like that, you’re like, you’re getting hotter, you’re getting hotter and it just gets better and better.
Louis: Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned that, there’s a book called The Unique Ability. I don’t know if you’ve read it. It’s a method-
Wes: I just went through that, it was awesome. Yeah.
Louis: Yeah. So that tells you exactly to do this, you list down every single activity and you map it out, whether it gives you … whether you’re good at it, whether you’re good at it and gives you good energy. Because there’s also the fact that you could do something you’re good at, and yet it just sucks your energy. For example, I’m good at outreach, but I fucking hate it. So I don’t want to do it. And in this case, you need to outsource, outsource, outsource. so it’s the same for me, I fucking hate accounting and been paying the same accountant for the last five years. I don’t fucking know what’s happening. He just contacted me every six months or so to give him stuff and that’s it.
Louis: So yeah, I like that. So The Unique Ability, the method, The Unique Ability is pretty good for that. And I’m glad you mentioned that, we’re on the same page there. So you start to get an understanding of not only your strengths, but those strengths that give you [inaudible 00:16:19] energy, because then it means that you can use your time more efficiently. And then you outsource the rest. Now let’s get closer to the step where you were working for this business, for Vidyard, and you started to think of, I want to do something on my own, I want to create something, or I want to be my own boss or whatever was the goal. Tell me more about this. What was the thought process then?
Wes: So here’s the credibility killer. So I was at Vidyard and the business was growing super quick and they’re hiring a lot of really good managers and just making sure everything was running like a system. And so early on, when I came onto that business, there was so much autonomy. I was doing a ton of stuff. And so when that kind of environment came into play, I actually started underperforming. So I got fired. And that happened. I was kind of shocked initially, because I was working on this product thing that was going really well. But then it was this eye opening moment where I had to decide, what is it that I’m going to do for the next year? So it’s like perfect time, if you’re ever going to fire someone, fire them in December, because they’re thinking about that next year already.
Wes: And they’re going to say to themselves, what am I going to do for this next year? And it’s such a good question. And so I was asking myself like, well, is it another job? Am I just going to work in some other bureaucratic kind of company? And I even had offers the next week since I got so many referrals. Then I was like, okay, no. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to actually take a chance on myself, build this business. If I don’t make a single dollar at the end of the year, I will take a job. That’s my worst case scenario. So I protected the downside. I knew it wasn’t going to be that bad. And I started working towards building this business. And so the overall business and what it was, that has changed so many times, but it felt like by year, about year and a half into it, I really hit a groove around helping people around onboarding and all things, like product-led growth ends.
Wes: That also goes back to the energy of, I actually felt like, Hey, this is really great. You feel like you have momentum. It’s not actually that much work. And I think the big difference between burning out, versus working hard and getting a ton of progress is really that momentum. You have momentum. And when you have it, you know it, when you don’t, it feels like burnout.
Louis: So let’s unpack, first off thanks so much for sharing this, the fact that you got laid off, it doesn’t, it takes some strength to admit that on a podcast. And I appreciate that. But I think in term of credibility, I think you’re leveraging a psychological bias called the pratfall effect. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it? Which is basically people trust more other people or brands who admit flaws. And so, I mean, you’re not doing that on purpose obviously, but it’s a very strong-
Wes: But, here’s the thing, why do you think it’s a flaw? Because-
Louis: No, no, no, no, no. Sorry. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I’m just reciting the thing. I didn’t mean that it’s a flaw, but as you said for credibility, you said it’s a killer. Some people might interpret it as a killer of credibility, but it’s not the case. I think it’s just fucking experience. And I dig what you said about when the business grows and you have managers and all of that, and it’s not for everyone, which is another lesson. It’s not, you don’t have to feel okay by either being a manager or just being a subordinate, doing your little square thingy inside a box. If it doesn’t give you energy anymore, then you should quit and find something else. I mean, it’s easy for me to say, but it’s kind of what it is about. Right? So anyway, so you started this business, you started doing consulting and stuff like that. Tell me more about how it came from, doing on-boardings, helping people on-boarding and whatnot, to a very, very strong, straightforward positioning and messaging.
Wes: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ll even add to what you mentioned too. This is like a precursor to building credibility, is you got to find what environment you work best in. So at Vidyard it was at that scale where it wasn’t my fit, I worked much better, smaller companies, smaller teams. And so when you identify that and you can find that, whether that’s even just being with colleagues that really get you excited, that’s really where you have to be. If you’re burnt out with a bunch of depressing people, it’s not going to work. So I think to get back to your first part of that question, want to just repeat it again?
Louis: So, from starting doing your business, like consulting and whatever, to the product-led idea and the Institute, so what was, did you start working with clients consulting? What did you do then?
Wes: Yeah. Sorry about that. So essentially it started off, I was going to build an SEO, AB testing product. Crazy. And so I had these, a couple of places in Waterloo, Canada at a time where you get a pretty sizable grant from the government, and you just needed one of these good business ideas that you could work on. And so I applied for it and I started doing this market research and I’m like, I really don’t like this market. This feels like a lot of work, even just doing market research on it. Believe me, it’s an amazing idea. And it just wasn’t the right fit for me in terms of working on that. And so while I was doing this market research, I had a couple of friends reach out and say like, hey, I know this other person they’re in like Australia and some other areas they’re looking for help with growth. And so would you be interested?
Wes: And I’m like, yeah, sure, send them over. I’ll chat with them, see if I can help out. So I started helping these people solve a lot of the same problems I was working on at Vidyard around onboarding specifically, and fast-forward eight, 10 months later from making that decision of I’m going to build my own business. I had quite a few of these clients and I was solving a lot of the same problems around this. And so at that point I had to decide, well, am I going to continue with this SEO AB testing tool I do not like, and do not want to invest any more time in, or do I double down on this consulting thing that kind of cropped up out of nowhere. And it seems to be working really, really well.
Wes: And so I did make that decision. And then it was really, I think even the next four or five months when I really got to scale up the consulting, I decided, wow, there’s like so many potential projects you could do as a consultant, but what’s so unfortunate is you got to pick one that you really do enjoy. And I remember there’s this one project that was back at the biggest month I was referring to earlier, where I was like, Oh my goodness, I hate this job. And so, yeah, it was a matter of honing that down from the energy kind of perspective that we talked about.
Louis: So the clients you start to get were from friends and acquaintances in the industry, right?
Wes: Yes. And those are great when you’re starting, because they’re easy to get started and closed, but bad whenever it comes to solve this specific problem for me. It’s usually like the friends will say, Oh, you can help out with growth or something. And then whether it’s a website, it’s ads, or some onboarding thing, it can be all over the spectrum. And sure you could help them and provide some genuine value to them. I’m not saying you’re cheating them in any way, but it’s just, you can’t develop any sort of specialty around that. Which is really hard. And I see a lot of consultants get stuck in that, where they’re just doing a lot of broad things. They can’t develop any sort of unique specialty and charge premiums so that they don’t have to be working all the time.
Louis: Yeah. I think one of the biggest reason this happens is people are scared of the shrinking brain syndrome. They are scared that, I’m going to specialize, I’m going to become a one trick pony. What about all of the other stuff I could make money from? What do you say to that?
Wes: Yeah. Well like the beauty is in the specialty, because if you think about, if it is a big enterprise and they have, let’s say a big budget for whatever they want to solve this problem for, they’re not going, they’re actually probably going to look at you as a generalist and say, you know, they’re not charging that much. Do they really know what they’re doing? In fact, a lot of bigger companies actually get comforted, Hey, this is a professional. They solve just this problem whenever we go on the website, we have seen whether it’s their blog articles and all this stuff around this particular topic, it sounds like they really understand this problem even better than we do. And we hire specialists. And so, yes, it can seem like that initially, if you’re getting all your leads from, let’s say Upwork, and that’s all the tags you put on, and you’re like the best of everything. But we all know that that’s not true. You can only be good at so many things.
Louis: So you started doing consulting, helping tech companies, SaaS companies around growth, and all of that, touch on every topic, like ads. You did some helping them with onboarding, their website and whatnot. Talk me through the moment or the time when you start to think of something a bit more specialized, a bit more, a bit clear that led to the Product-Led Institute.
Wes: Yeah. And so it was this one problem around … before I was always focused on let’s get signups and get more people in the door for the product. But then I started asking a lot of questions to these SaaS founders and being like, Hey, if like that thousand signups I sent you last month, how many of them actually went into the product? And a lot of them didn’t actually know, or they didn’t have product analytics set up. So we set it up, started looking at it and it was like a big, Oh shit. That’s almost like 40/50/60% of people are not actually going to the products. There was really a huge disconnect between acquisition and activation.
Wes: And so what I started to do is apply that same CRO mindset that you would apply to just getting people in the door to activation. And so it seemed pretty natural for me to just go in and I guess identify, here’s what someone has to do in your product to see value. And I was so focused on, let’s get these users successful that when that happens, it almost always was that more of those users would turn into paying customers. And so once I started to identify that I was like, there is no one really focused on that end. I think, have you ever heard of Dilbert? The comic?
Louis: Maybe I’ve seen it. No, I’m not good with names, tell me more.
Wes: Okay. So Dilbert’s like this really, I like it at least, like a business kind of comic. And so the writer itself, he’s a fun, phenomenal guy to research, but he was like, you know what, I’m not the best at business. And you know, when it comes to writing comics, I’m not the best at writing comics, but combined, I’m world-class. I’m my own unique category. And so I started to think of myself through that Dilbert lens. Like, hey, I’m not the best at CRO. I mean, there’s lots of other people who are much better at CRO than me. And I’m not the best at product, but combined, that’s something I can truly be unique at. And so I think whenever you’re thinking of building that credibility, what does that unique differentiator and ability that we were referring to earlier, identifying what you can be the Dilbert in is a fun way of looking at it.
Wes: So, yeah, that’s kind of the journey of how I really went into the world of product-led growth, before it was even called that. And it just happened that I kept focusing on that, since at that time I knew I was focusing on something that gave me a ton of energy and I just doubled down on that. And so it started with writing, I partnered with CXL for the course, and the course actually came up before the book. But when I was doing that course, I was blown away. I’m like, Oh my goodness. This is, it felt like an iceberg. Where I thought it was just like the stuff you saw at the top. And then I started getting into product-led growth really deep. I was just amazed. I’m like, there’s so much more to this that fascinates me and I want to dive deep.
Wes: And so that was why I wrote the book because I wanted a playbook to really see like, okay, what I’ve been working on with my clients, is there more repeatable stuff here? How can I understand this topic better? Because at the end of building that first course, I felt like there’s something missing there. There’s so many more pieces to this puzzle that I want to figure out. And so that led to the book and eventually part of that research process for the book was interviewing a bunch of really incredible people around this topic, which led to the summit. So everything kind of had its own time and it rolled into each other after a while. But in hindsight, yeah, maybe from the overall view from three years later, I can seem like, Oh, it came across like perfectly, you had a plan for everything, but a lot of it was just one after each other and it kind of fed into each other naturally.
Louis: So let’s unpack that. And thanks for sharing all of this. Because there is, I’m pretty sure there are a few steps between you consulting on the same problem over and over again, realizing that conversion rate optimization and product together can solve a specific problem. How did you go, how did you get the opportunity to do a course for CXL, because they are not fucking around. Right. I mean CXL Institute is reputable place and they don’t take anyone. So how did you go about doing something for them?
Wes: Yeah. And so this was just through a contact that I had. He’s actually, we’re working together right now, is Ramli John. And so, yeah, he just was working with them at that time as one of their growth marketing office hours folks. And so, yeah, they just wanted someone to speak on a new topic. And so I just pitched them product -led growth, they offer it. And so it just comes down to understanding who you know. And this is one other piece about how to build credibility that I don’t think we really focused on and that is, are you still there?
Louis: All right. I’m just going to start again, trying to go back to what we were talking about. So we were talking about … Okay, go ahead.
Wes: Yeah. So one of the other pieces that feeds into even just doing that first course, that it takes years and years to build up to is just having social capital. So I always thought there’s financial capital, which is great and everything, but I think earlier in your career, if you over optimize on social capital, it can pay off in a lot of different ways much faster than financial capital can. And believing it’s just more longterm at the end of the day. Capital you can invest, and it can go away the next day. But social capital, it can stay if you build that reputation. And so, I was really just connecting with the right folks and being good at networking and building relationships.
Louis: So you took the time to build one-to-one relationship during your career, just to have friends around in the industry, like Ramli John for example is one you mentioned, without expecting anything in return and just having genuine relationship with people, right?
Louis: So I’m still struggling to understand something, which is, how did you go from knowing there is a problem, the intersection of conversion rate optimization with the product, to a clear, concise view of this is basically what we’d call product-led growth. And I can teach that at the CXL. What was the steps in between? How did you go about it?
Wes: Yeah. So in terms of the term itself, is that where you’d want to focus on?
Louis: Not necessarily just the term, but how you taught it. Where did you learn it? Was it just your knowledge that you put on paper and organized together with just books? You mentioned interviews.
Wes: Yeah, because at that time there wasn’t really any books. And so that was really what I was doing. I was talking to a lot of other folks who are, whether it’s experts at onboarding, like user onboarding is like the most close parallel you could call to product-led growth. And so I was just talking with a ton of people around that and focusing on like, “Well, how are you approaching that ends?” I would be doing discussions like this and just kind of digging into their strategies, what they’re doing. And at the end of every single call I just ask like, “Well, is there anyone else I could talk to about this particular topic about?” And so it just led like once the next ends you quickly learn and hear a lot of the same things. And so there was that part of learning. And then there was also with the consulting.
Wes: One of the true benefits of consulting is pattern recognition. You can learn way quicker than any employee could ever, if you focus on the same problem. Because when you start seeing the same things again and again, you don’t have to be a genius to start saying to yourself, “Huh, when we do this, X happens.” And so it’s just a little bit different in every single business of course, but you can see those patterns. So that was it. And as I was writing the book, I was testing a lot of these same things again and again to see if they were really working, because I didn’t want to write a book and promise things that didn’t actually work. And so that’s the whole learning and trying to validate it as well as I could with all the other information that was already out there.
Louis: And to be clear, product-led growth is not a term that you coined yourself, right?
Wes: Correct. Yep. And like, that’s literally I think the first sentence, I’m like, “Give full credit to OpenView for coming up with that term,” but-
Louis: Oh yeah. OpenView came up with this, yeah.
Wes: Yeah but-
Louis: But you run with it, right? You fucking run with it?
Wes: Exactly. And the reason I ran with it was because it really solidified, it’s not just like about this onboarding thing. There’s product-led marketing, product-led support, success. Every team in a product-led business has to operate differently. And that was part of that iceberg I started realizing like, “Wait, this is so much more cool and big then I initially thought it was.” So that’s got me excited about it.
Louis: Okay. So you, how long did it take you to create this course from start to finish? Do you remember?
Wes: About four or five months for the first one.
Louis: So four or five months of research, outlining, re-outlining, getting feedback, getting feedback again, and then recording it.
Wes: Yeah. What’s good about it too. When for that first course, it was all live. So it’s not like one of those on demand ones where you just record all that content, hope it’s good. And then you see that no one actually completed it or had a question. So if you really wanted to test and vet your content and see how it resonates, having people go through a live with you is one of the best ways.
Louis: So you did a basically class, a class or classes live with people listening?
Wes: Correct, yes.
Louis: And people are able to give you feedback, ask questions, insights, like in each class or at the end, or how did it go?
Wes: Yeah. So anywhere they wanted to they could jump into that course and be like, “Hey, can you clarify that? Can you go through this a bit more?” And the other piece too that’s beyond this course, is I’m always trying to listen. And so one of the, I kind of broke down before this call, like all the steps that I went through to build some credibility. And so one of them was just using other people’s audiences. And so, the reason you’re doing that. Whether it’s a guest blog post, it’s a course, it’s a video, or it’s a webinar, is you’re just trying to learn as fast as you can. Because initially when it was like product-led growth, even just using the word product-led felt a little awkward because you’re like, “In this context, did we use it like this?” Now it’s becoming a little bit easier to communicate as more people get on. But initially it’s like product-led growth marketing is, it sounds clunky. And so like, remove the growth. And so there’s things like that that is invaluable if you just use other people’s audiences, if you don’t have yours initially.
Louis: So you got in touch with other folks like the CXL Institute to say, “Hey.” What did you say actually? I’m not going to make it up. What did you tell them?
Wes: Yeah. So initially we had that intro and it was just like we hopped on a call and learned a little bit more about what the whole format was. And then I sent them a video overview of like, “Here’s what I’m going to cover in this course. This is what people are going to learn. And these are the main outcomes from the course, does this even sound like a good fit for your audience?” So it wasn’t like a hard pitch or anything. It was just like, “Does this even resonate at all?” And so there was that big crossover of CRO and products that definitely fits with their audience.
Louis: I like what you said about it sounded clunky at first and you didn’t, you weren’t sure about it. Because in retrospect everything sounds fucking nice and easy. Like conversion rate optimization is another term that was going by the commission and the experts people. And it’s a bit clunky, conversational marketing is the overused example by Drift, they poured tens of millions into it. And they said themselves it sounded very fucking clunky at the start. But then when it spreads and people start talking about it to others, it feels less than less weird and more and more adoptive as a term. So you build credibility by using other people’s audiences. How else did you do it? How else did you start to develop credibility?
Wes: Yeah. I mean, I literally have a list of like 16 steps. Do you want me to go through it?
Wes: Maybe you can jump in or stop me at any specific part. So the first one’s like, start with finding that problem you’re passionate about solving, that is you must because you’re not going to be willing to put in the work. And then the other one’s like, find that market need or wave that aligns with their problem. And so, especially early on, before people were even calling it product-led growth, I was already working on this sort of thing. And whenever even there was this slightest chance of steam around product-led growth. You think of it like a wave. Like if you really want to surf, at the beginning is actually when you need to start kicking your legs off, swimming super quick, because you want to catch that wave.
Wes: And so it really comes down to like, “Are you willing to work the hardest to understand that problem and put in the work initially?” And so the timing piece is really important. And so the fifth one is really just like interviewing the top leaders on the space. Learn as much as you can around this. And once you start to hear all these ideas and everything, it’s kind of useless unless you start developing your own opinions by writing high quality content on it. And I don’t know about for you, but for myself, clarifying, writing is the best way you can ever clarify anything. And so that was my way to really synthesize, I have all these people who are brilliant sharing these ideas. Let’s boil it down here. And so once you develop your own opinions, really just truly use that to become the best at solving your particular problem and challenge the norm in your writing.
Wes: Pick a villain. Before I think they were called Aptrinsic, now they got acquired by Gainsight, they’re Gainsight PX. They wrote a ton of content on this stuff around product-led growth before, but they had no villain. They’re like, there’s the sales-led, there’s the marketing-led, there’s a tech-led, then there’s the product-led. And it was just like, “Great. Nobody cares.” It’s like, if you want to sell something at those other ends, you got to use the sales team. So it was like, just call it sales-led, build that villain. And so whether it was even on the websites, at productled.com, like I’m trying to paint the picture of here’s the villain and here’s where we’re trying to head. So you need to have that challenging perspective or else why pay attention to you in the first place? You’re just going to be barking up the same stuff everyone else is. And I think that’s really why everyone hates marketers because a lot of them say the same thing.
Louis: Exactly. And the villain thing is super interesting because I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently, a lot of people saying the same thing, you need to pick a villain, but why is that? And when you search about it from a psychological perspective, people are drawn to negative emotions more than they are to positives. So in the spectrum from psychiatry, there’s six emotions. Usually the generic emotions that we feel, only two of them are positive, four of them are negative. And the other thing is from an evolutionary perspective, we as humans are drawn more to negative emotions, drawn more to those, because that means survival, right? So when you associate dangers, anger with specific moments, you pay more attention to it then just joy and the other one that I’m going to forget. So when you go back to that, and then you associate it with the storytelling aspect, which is like the fact that for millennials and even more, humans are drawn to a story, what’s how we remember stuff.
Louis: You add the villain, negative emotions with the storytelling aspect, and then you start to have something that sticks, right? And you said that pretty casually, which is interesting, but it’s actually not casual at all. I think that’s quite impressive to know that you’ve done that consciously, because I don’t think [crosstalk 00:11:16].
Wes: But you won’t need to put up with the stuff. I was just studying other categories, back in, when I was really getting into digital marketing, for me it was like HubSpot, inbound marketing versus outbound marketing. It would just like, that’s how it is. There’s that villain, you need to create that villain or else people don’t know like, “Okay there is this better way.” And so in most categories there is going to be that villain that comes out to get you. And so that was, yeah. One of the other steps. The next one is, I mentioned a bit earlier, but getting from other people’s audiences. And when you do, add this step to it, find what resonates, and this can be done through a bunch of different ways. Maybe people will reach out to you if you’re doing consulting for consulting engagements, or they’ll just share this thing wide and far.
Wes: And I still remember to this day, I wrote this article for CXL and it was on pick your SaaS go-to market strategy. And so many people reached out to me after that, whether it was for consulting engagements or anything else. And I was like, “This actually changed the way people thought. And so that was the first chapter of the book that I wrote. I’m like, “I’m just going to keep that as is,” make some changes obviously, build it out a bit more, but that is going to be powerful and change the way people think. So at that time, I didn’t have a big audience. So using other people’s audiences was the best thing I had in my arsenal. And then beyond that, okay, you work with other people’s audiences. Eventually you have to build your own. And that is going to be one of your big moats in terms of building credibility is how can you do that as quick as you can.
Wes: And so those are some of the big things. And then beyond that, just like scaling your thought leadership, whether that’s in a format of a book. a course, doesn’t matter as much. Although I would say this comes back to your first thought around institute. And it’s like a book is also like that old school positioning tool, where if you write a book, people will assume there’s a lot more credibility. In fact, part of that is valid because to write a book, it takes a long time, and it’s not just as easy as a blog post or anything else like that. So that is a very good position to, if you do want to build that credibility. But beyond that, you could have a decent sized audience. You could have the book and everything else, but eventually, especially if you want to work on building a category, you need a platform.
Wes: So this could be like what you’re doing here, whether that’s a podcast, because the value you provide is going both ways. It’s great. For me, it was a summit because I was doing a lot of these discussions with people and I just felt a little bit bad at the end of it I’m like, “Great, thanks. I recorded this. I’m going to review it for myself and no one else.” And it’s like, “Great, okay, great talking to you.” And it’s like, “Can I provide any more value to you?” And so that was me thinking, “Okay, let’s build this out as a summit,” but I also went one step above that with the summit. And I’m giving people my book. At the end every speaker gets a copy of my book. So it’s like reinforcing that authority and credibility around it by the people who are already at the top level of the space around product-led growth. So both of those things kind of fit together. And the last part is just, to make it work you have to monetize the problem you solve, or else it’s going to be really hard to feed the fire.
Louis: And so yeah. Make money from, how do you make money at the minute actually? What’s the main ways for you to generate revenue?
Wes: Yep. So there’s the book, workshop, course, and we also have a product-led audit.
Louis: I like, I’m laughing because I just find it… it’s interesting the way you kind of intuitively know and recognize patterns and takes the risk, like to pick a villain and to write a book and all of that. It’s interesting because I’m telling you that not a lot of people think this way, right? Not a lot of people are willing to take all of those risks that you took. Not a lot of people are willing to dig into one topic long enough to actually write a fucking book about it, let alone a good book. And I think it’s a big lesson for people listening, which is, this is why a book builds credibility is because it takes a long fucking time. And people who are willing to spend one year plus sometimes to write a book are people who are just passionate and they must be more expert than you are into the topic.
Louis: So that makes sense to me, that makes way more sense than the Institute’s path on its own, right? But altogether, altogether, it creates, as you mentioned, a moat around you, which is like, you start to own specific words, you start to talk about it everywhere. You are known for it. You can sell courses, workshops, you can sell audits, communities and whatever else. Is there anything else I forgot to ask you on the topic of building a personal brand, building credibility, like a lesson, mistake you’ve made, something that I haven’t asked you yet?
Wes: Yeah, so I think there’s throughout all of these points I went through, there’s underlying trends and things that you should pay attention to. One of them is so obvious. I didn’t even put it initially, but it’s just consistency. Consistency has to be through this. And that comes back to like picking that one problem and sticking with it. I know a ton of folks where they jumped from one trend to the next. One day there are the growth marketing guy, the next are the growth hacking guy or gal. And then they’re the product-led person. And so it’s like they just keep hopping, hopping, hopping, and you need to stick down, hunker down, build that moat around it. And for me, at least whenever I started deciding like even buying like productled.com and all that stuff, I started to see there’s a lot of things around product that I was focusing on and excited.
Wes: I was like, “There is product-led book. There is product-led course. There is a product-led summit. There is maybe eventually product-led ventures.” There’s so many things you could do with this around product-led growth, but it’s the same problem I’m just helping people with. And so when you do find that, yeah start building that mode as best as you can.
Louis: And I’m glad you mentioned that, consistency is absolutely key. And again, I’ve been hearing that for years and years and they always wonder, “Why the fuck is it so important?” And again, when you think about it from a psychological standpoint, what it does is it brings mental availability to people, meaning that they tend to think of about you. They tend to remember you more. They create connections in memories for you because you show up consistently. So you freshen up their memory consistently, meaning that they might not have the problem right now, but when they have it, they think of you first. And that’s why consistency and showing up every fucking day, every fucking week, every fucking month, every fucking year is so fucking important. And that’s why I’ve committed myself three years and a half ago to never stop doing this podcast until whatever happens. Because I knew that consistency is absolutely key.
Louis: Again, it separates the people who keep hoping with people like you are successful. Genuinely does. Because you have to show up every day, even when you’re in bad mood, even when you don’t feel well, you have to fucking show up. And so if you don’t do something that energizes you, then it’s going to be tough, right?
Wes: Yeah, and I think one of the other underlying things too is all about confidence. And I think it’s really easy, even for myself, initially was I feel imposter syndrome. Like, “Why am I going to be the expert on this?” Or I don’t still see myself as an expert. I’m always learning about this stuff. So I always try and stay humble around that part, but develop confidence. You have to. And I think one of the best ways you can do that is just by being that consistent person consistently going into it, consistently writing about it, consistently researching about it. After a while you do become truly confident. And it’s not because you’re just this completely confident person that’s natural to you, it’s because it’s developed.
Louis: It’s kind of fake it until you make it saying which sometimes doesn’t work, but that’s what it is, right? You have to show up and learn from it. Wes, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for being very transparent, very practical with me. I really, really appreciate it. I know that people listening did as well. Last question before I let you go, what are the top three resources you’d recommend marketers listening?
Wes: Specifically for this topic I would say, make sure you read Key Person of Influence. It was one of those books that’s written by Daniel Priestley and it really goes through strategy you can use to really build more influence in the industry. And so I started there. I still think it’s an amazing book. I’ve read it multiple times. So give that a read. And I think for marketers, just try and do more of these specific things, like whether it’s starting a podcast or anything, try and just learn from people who are doing the work. That is one of the best things you could do if you want to stay at the cutting edge of what people are actually doing. Because honestly, once people start writing about it, it’s usually already outdated. Because marketers, we, as soon as something’s out there, we adapt very quickly and change it up. So if you want to really ahead of the game, make sure you always chat with interesting people and build that social capital, which eventually will help you get that credibility, potentially in odd ways you never thought of.
Louis: And people love to talk about themselves. So don’t think that when you talk to people, they’re going to feel like it’s just giving their time against nothing. They love talking about themselves. Wes, you’ve been a pleasure, really have learned a lot from you today. I know people listening have as well. If they want to get in touch with you, how do they do that?
Wes: Yeah, So if you just go to LinkedIn type in Wes Bush. Or if you want to learn more about product-led growth, productled.com.
Louis: Simple as that. Wes, you’ve been a pleasure. Thanks.
Wes: No worries. Thank you.