Companies always look to hire experienced or “rockstars” marketer, but sometimes it can backfire.
My guest today is Nadya Khoja, the Chief Growth Officer at Venngage. We discussed how Nadya hires for core values alignment, along with the unique interview questions she used to assess it.
She also shared how her authenticity got her a job at Venngage despite having zero marketing experience, and how any aspiring marketers can do it.
- Why companies should not hire “rockstar” marketers
- Why hiring senior marketers didn’t work well for Venngage in the past
- Nadya’s process for hiring new marketers
- The unique interview question that caught most candidates off guard(And Nadya’s answer)
- Advice for aspiring marketers without experience on how to get your first gig
- How to manage new hires in their first 2 weeks
- What marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 5 – 20 years
Listen to this episode:
- Drunk Entrepreneurs
- Brianne Kimmel and her tweet
- Venngage’s CEO Eugene Woo
- Product Sprints
- Pirate Metrics
- Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman
- Traffic Think Tank
- Matthew Barby
- Nadya’s personal site
- Nadya’s Twitter
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour, and welcome to another episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com. The no-fluff actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host Louis Grenier. In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to hire, how to train, how to manage junior marketers instead of maybe hiring folks with 20 plus years of experience. My guest today is a chief growth officer at Venngage which is a free infographic maker. She joined Venngage as the digital marketer, moved to head of marketing and now is the chief growth officer. A pretty steep career path. She wrote for Huffington post, Entrepreneur, The Next Web, Forbes and also created a web series where she shares marketing tips and strategies for business owners after a few or too many drinks so I cannot wait to be invited to that. Nadya Khoja, welcome.
Nadya: Thank you
Louis: Nadya, why do companies tend to hire super experienced marketers instead of junior ones?
Nadya: I think the reason for that is because there’s this assumption that everybody needs to have rock stars on their team and I actually just saw a tweet by Brianne Kimmel recently where she talks about hiring rock stars and how everyone wants to hire rock stars. Realistically they’re expensive, they’re high maintenance and they’re unreliable but when people are starting at these companies, we want a track record of success so we’re trying to look for these top people and as a result, we spend a lot of money on trying to get them but then they have a certain way of doing things or understanding things. Eventually I think you realize that it’s either their way or you have to really focus on untraining somebody to work in a different style that maybe fits your business or your industry a little bit better.
Nadya: I mean, I don’t have that background, right? I didn’t have a marketing background, I don’t have an education in business, I actually have a theater degree so when I applied to Venngage, I didn’t even know what marketing was or I didn’t know a lot about the tech industry. It was just a matter of I want to work hard and figure something out. But I think that’s why people try to hire these experienced marketers and experienced professionals just because there is that proven track record of success so we forget or don’t pay attention to the problems that could potentially come up with that.
Louis: Tell me more. It sounds like it’s coming from a personal experience of yours, at least mistakes you might have made in the past. Is there a particular story you want to share about a time where you actually hired someone like this or some stuff you learn from that?
Nadya: Yeah. When we were starting out now, because I didn’t have the experience before and I didn’t think it was necessary, a lot of our early hires were unexperienced. Not just marketers but unexperienced product designers, unexperienced everything. Our CEO is also learning as we were growing, right? He had a product background, not necessarily… He hadn’t really run a big business on his own and we don’t have funding so we don’t have a board of directors or advisors that are helping us out along the way, it’s really all us trying to figure everything out and making our own mistakes. By hiring unexperienced people early on, we somehow managed to figure it out and as we grew, we started thinking, okay, now we need some more experienced people to come in. Do we want to hire managers from outside or do we want to train management up?
Nadya: We’ve been pretty smart in the way that we’ve approached our own growth. We talked to a lot of other CEOs and founders to learn about their experiences before we make our own judgment calls. But yeah, we’ve hired people who are experienced in the past and the funny thing is those are the people that don’t last very long. I think of all the highly experienced people that have come in and we’re like, okay, maybe they don’t fit our culture or they’re a little bit expensive but let’s just take the risk, they’ve all failed. I think the reason for that is because they have really high expectations. They’re used to working in a certain way and our culture is really, really fast paced and pretty intense, right? So when people come in and they’re looking for some, like a cushy job, that’s not what they’re getting.
Nadya: They’re getting an environment that’s constantly moving and I think the best quote I heard somebody tell me the other day was one of the engineers said, “I’ve been here for three months but everyday feels like 15 minutes so it feels like a year.” And it’s true, right? But as a result people stay a lot longer and feel a lot more comfortable quickly because they’re doing so many things but the more experienced people just can’t keep up with the different way of working or the different processes and having to follow those processes. There is a little bit of entitlement there and I think that’s why it just hasn’t worked. Like I said, it’s harder to untrain people than it is to train people.
Louis: Do you think the main reason why those people didn’t work out was because of the culture itself not necessarily a lack of skills or lack of knowledge, right. It was mostly, they didn’t fit the culture of the fast paced, they didn’t understand the processes or at least they wanted to change those processes to something they were more comfortable?
Nadya: Yeah. I totally think it’s a culture fit. Part of the main thing that we hire for is culture or core value fit and talent, right? We don’t really care about skills or knowledge because the idea is if you have the right core values, you have the right talent, you’ll learn the skills. Skills and knowledge is something that can be constantly developed. That’s actually the last thing I look at. I hardly look at resumes when people come in. In fact, some people, they’ll bring me their resume and I’m like, right. I don’t know what school you went to, your previous boss and somebody, a new hire was talking to me about a previous job. I’m like, I didn’t know you lived there and then people were like, why did you hire this person? You’re not even paying attention to their experience. The truth is people who have a lot of years of experience and don’t have a proven track record for getting results aren’t usually a good fit.
Louis: Right. I think that’s a good way to explain the problems that companies have when they hire and why they shouldn’t really look at experienced people. As I said to you before we started to record this episode, a lot of people listening to this podcast actually want to become marketers and they don’t necessarily… Are marketers with experience so I think what you’re going to say is going to be interesting to them but also a lot of people hire marketers so they’re also going to probably enjoy your answer. From what you’ve learned the last few years, how do you like to hire those new marketers? What is your process? What do you like to look at?
Nadya: Yeah. like I said, we have different core values that we look at and ultimately we try to focus on hiring for culture. Our core values, I mean, they’re pretty synonymous with a lot of different tech companies, right? We all have the same jargon that we spew to each other and it’s just the same bullshit over and over again but we actually, we try to hold closely to those values and we try to make them values that the CEO, myself, a lot of the leadership team encompasses well and it’s… It comes down to owning your job and being accountable for what you’re doing, being data driven and able to reflect on real results and being growth oriented. I think those are the main things that we look for.
Nadya: We have different, at the starting point, we have different questions, interview questions that touch on each of those things that we’re looking for so a lot of the questions are very focused on for instance, we put our customers first is one of our main core values so when we’re looking at talking to people, we’re asking them questions that we can make inferences about their self-awareness. Do they actually care about customers? Are they willing to put themselves first in order to or put themselves in a difficult position and one that they maybe don’t like for the sake of the user. What things are they doing in order to learn and progress? What have they done that shows accountability and shows self-improvement, things like that and that’s really the startng point.
Nadya: Our interviews are long processes. We actually had somebody that came in, it was from a LinkedIn post and it was somebody with experience looking for a marketing position and I invited them to apply. That was it. Then they applied and came in for an interview but… They had been working for five years, their salary expectation was pretty high, they wanted a manager title, yada, yada, yada and then when it came down to it and I was trying to get an essence of results that they had had, they couldn’t really articulate that to me well or it wasn’t that impressive. We ended up not moving forward and then the person got upset, wrote an article about it online, about how it was such a waste of time for them and I’m like, well, we spend three… Their assumption was that it was the high salary that was the reason that we chose not to move forward.
Nadya: We usually ask for salary at the end of the interview so that we don’t make a biased decision based on what somebody wants. We try to make a decision before we even ask for the salary because if we really want somebody it doesn’t matter but yeah, and it was just this assumption and this total lack of self awareness coming into the interview where, I was just like, by all means, that’s not what it was about. It’s the little things like that that we’re really looking for but somebody who’s a critical thinker and who has the self awareness, we’ll figure out a lot of the skills and the knowledge that they need to.
Louis: Right. You start with your values and you match those values with and then you have questions that try to answer those to see whether they have those values. As you said, tech companies in particular have mostly the same bullshit, right? The same values, what matters the most is how they actually embody them. How do they actually do that in the day to day. Give me an example of the questions. I know you might have more questions than this but maybe the top three questions that you use to really understand whether someone has the values that you want in Venngage.
Nadya: That’s tricky. There’s a lot of questions. Like I said, the interviews are like three hours long and the reason for that is that we can really get to know the person. One of my favorite questions that catches everyone off guard is, what is something inventive and memorable that you did as a child that people still talk about today? The reason for asking that is core values are inherent, right? These are things that don’t change and it’s a little bit more deeper rooted than something that you can learn how to do.
Nadya: If somebody can answer that and I can see that they have a track record, even as a kid of being… Of thinking outside the box, of being able to maybe break some of the rules at a young age but not be scared about it and learn from breaking those rules and how they talk about it. It’s like that’s the question where I finally see people drop their guard and then they’re like, oh my God, let me tell you about this one time and then they get really excited and I can actually see who they really are.
Nadya: I try to ask that, maybe it’s like the third question I ask and in a lot of cases you can learn a lot about how somebody is now based on the things that they did as a kid or what they consider inventive as a child. It’s, yeah, making inferences based on those questions because when you ask somebody the generic question, what are your strengths and weaknesses? People are just going to tell you what they think you want to hear. You can’t trust something like that. You have to ask questions where there is no obvious right or wrong answer but you know what you’re looking for from it and that just comes from practicing and failing from based on the answers. Yeah, it’s just down to reading people and understanding what people are implying.
Louis: That’s a fantastic question. I’ve actually never heard this one before, which is great. Tell you what, I’m going to try to answer it myself and I’m going to ask you to answer it, right. What I’m thinking about straightaway, from the title of the podcast you can guess that I’m quite contrary and I like to say no. I like to see the majority of people doing something. I like to do the opposite just to see. That’s from a very young age. I’ve been doing that with my mom a lot. Everything she was telling me I would do the opposite. She says from the moment I could talk, I would do that, right. Just as a mechanism to be noticed. I think it’s been ingrained in my brain since then. Everything that I’m being told, I try to look at the opposite way and see whether that could work. She got pissed off at me for years and years and years for doing this, right but that got embedded in my DNA so now at this stage, she’s like everything that I do in marketing, I’m trying to do the opposite. For good reasons. I’m not doing it for the sake of it.
Louis: That’s my summarized answer to this. But yeah, it really made me think and it’s a great way to know what values are shaped into people’s personality, right. Not just something they’ve learned yesterday. Let me ask you the question then. What about you?
Nadya: Yeah, your answer is very down to the behavior. I would actually follow up with what’s a specific instance or a specific example of a time when you did that. What exactly happened?
Louis: When I was a kid.
Nadya: Yeah. I’m more interested to know an exact example. Tell me a specific story where you had… You contradicted something.
Louis: You remember the internet, the first modem, the 56K type of type of modem, right? Where you would set them up, you would do this weird fucking noise and you waited two minutes to get online. I used to be on the internet all the time but remember when you connected this way, people couldn’t call on the other line, right? And so my mom tried to call her sisters and that kind of stuff every time. I put up in place a mechanism where I would make her think that I was on the phone with someone so I would talk out loud on the phone, like say to a friend about homework but in fact I was not. I was just using internet for that and I’ve done that multiple times. There is not one instance because I’ve done it so many fucking times. But yeah, that’s what sprung to mind. Probably not the best question but we are not in a job interview. I’ll do my best. I think of it again.
Nadya: Yeah. No that’s good because to me that’s just a sign of an early growth hacker, right? Being able to find a creative solution in order to get the result that you want.
Louis: Yeah. Growth hacker is, yeah. Okay. I don’t like the term because-
Nadya: Or growth marketer.
Louis: … everyone is using [inaudible 00:18:25]. That’s exactly what happens. Okay. I’m super curious about you now. Tell me what’s the one instance?
Nadya: Yeah. Similar to you. There was a lot of things, right but I think as a kid I was always coming up with these schemes with my friends and I would wrote people in to these ideas that I had. I would be like, guys, we’re going to do this and they’re like, I don’t really want it. I just want to play in the playground or in the sandbox. I’m like, no guys, this is going to be the next big thing. And then I just hadn’t… I used to do this kind of stuff all the time but one specific example would be when we were in the third grade, I had this idea to take over the swing sets. You know in the playgrounds, there’s all the swing sets and come up with all of these rides and we would make… I got my friends to do it. We started with us doing it and just spin each other around and we made up these rides and we came up with all these cool names for them and I was like, hey, this is really fun. What if we get other people to come try the rides?
Nadya: Some of the grade ones and grade two started coming along and being like, I want to ride on the swing. We started this business essentially where we would tell kids to bring any pocket change they had like a nickel or dime here and there and they would wait in line and for the ride. Then it got to a point where every recess we had these long lines of kids with their change or with their snacks from their lunch that they wanted to trade in for a two second ride to the point where even some grade four, grade five kids were also waiting in line. We kept that going until the teachers found out and they were like, you can’t charge people to use the public swing sets. But yeah, it went on for a pretty long time. I used to do things like that all the time. The funny thing is we would actually make revenue from it. Not a big yield or anything but I think that was the early entrepreneurial days.
Louis: That’s a nice one. I can see you’ve thought about this answer for a long time after interviewing those people. Another one and then we can move on to another question perhaps. When I was in high school, 16 or 15, we were watching the Winter Olympics, I with my friends and you know this sport, I mean you’re in Canada, right so you know curling so you know the stone that you move away through the ice and you sweep in front of. Very weird when never heard of it before and we’ve never heard of it before. We watched that. I for some reason we went bonkers about it. We created new rules about it and we tried to make it to democratize it a bit and I created a website called curlingpassion.fr about trying to push people to use those new rules and we had brand new names and all of that and we had members from our high school on the forum that I had created posting about curling and shit like this. Just taking the piece because we didn’t know any of it.
Louis: That’s another thing that I remember that’s… I liked this kind of shit. But yeah, I very much like this question because yeah, you can really understand someone’s personality from it. Thanks for sharing it. I don’t know if your second question will be as good as this one but let’s try it, right. I know you have a lot of questions during interviews but if you have to select another one that stands out that really helps you to understand people’s personality or values, what would it be?
Nadya: Another question that I like asking is, what is a recent habit that you’ve I guess developed that has greatly changed your life in some way? What is a recent habit that they’ve taken on? Again, there’s no right or wrong answer. Anyone can have any different habits but it’s more about how they connect the dots between that habit and how it changed their life for the positive and that one is a lot about how do you grow but also how do you reflect on your growth.
Louis: I’m compelled to answer to this one as well because I don’t want to ask you without saying first, right?
Nadya: You realize this is just a preliminary interview, right? I’m going to get your job offer after this.
Louis: I know but I’m compelled to answer because it really makes you think and I like it. I can ask you first. Give an example for example for you then. What’s the habit that you took recently?
Nadya: I guess one so I’ll tie it back to marketing. When running experiments, you try to make iterative choices. Nobody ever runs into something fully where they’re like, let me build this huge project and it will take eight months and it will be awesome. It’s all about iterative improvements. I started applying that method of thinking to a lot of different parts of my life but specifically going to the gym and working out. One of the things is I was getting really frustrated by just doing the same thing at the gym all the time and I wasn’t seeing a lot of results and I don’t really like cardio so I started doing these micro weekly sprints of different tasks or experiments that I had to do.
Nadya: One would be like, okay, just to get into the routine would be like, I have to go every day. It doesn’t matter how long I go, it could even be five minutes, I just have to get there. That would be week one and then week two would be like, okay, I have to do a full week of just lifting and be a different body part every day for an hour every single day. Then the next week would be everyday cardio. Then the week after that would be half cardio, half this. Then by the end of the month, I had gotten into way better shape and I wasn’t bored because every week was changing. I just started applying that method to new habits and new things that I wanted to try and just doing the sprint approach and the iterative approach. It’s not necessarily just one habit but it’s how do you think about approaching habit changing?
Louis: It’s funny because the example I would have would be the same. I used to not go to the gym whatsoever and I used to burn out every few months because I was just working, nine to 10 hours a day without interrupting myself. What I’ve done now is I’m getting to the gym at the middle of the day to have a proper break between the two and yeah, it’s been amazing in terms of my productivity, my mental health, my anxiety levels have dropped drastically since I’ve done that nine months ago and it made me more productive even though I work probably 30% less and I’m way more productive. Yeah, also a great question I can see. Last one I know it’s challenging. I know you can’t easily pick just one but let’s, for the sake of it, let’s pick another one and then we can move on to the next step in the process.
Nadya: Okay. I’m trying to think of some of the ones that I like at the top of my head. Okay I’ll ask you what my last question or tell you what the last question in the interview is. It’s right when everybody thinks everything’s done, I ask them what is one question I should have asked that I didn’t ask. That usually stunts people and it forces them to think of something.
Louis: What great answers did you get from that if you can remember?
Nadya: A lot of people say their crap, like when can I start or how much do you want? Things like that but some people have some insightful questions where they’ll actually think through all of the questions that I asked. A lot of them are like, you didn’t ask me what the first… I think somebody was like, they would’ve asked, what would your four week plan look like after joining and what were the first things that you would want to do when you start at the company? Something along those lines. I like questions like that because again, the results focused, they’re strategic. You can tell the person is actually thinking of, I’m going to have a plan when I start so I’m like, okay, great, tell me the answer.
Louis: Yeah. Someone who can look forward to not just, I’m going to get my first salary, I’m going to be hired at this date but thinking ahead already, thinking strategically, what are the core objectives, what are the, I don’t know, the objectives and key results, what is my plan? What are my top three priorities? Right?
Nadya: Or any question where you can see that they obviously have some other benefits that they want to talk about, something that they think is a strength of theirs that they haven’t had an opportunity to share. It’s this chance for them to have that moment to share that strength and the ones who are self-aware are the ones that are like, you didn’t ask me about this and I think this is really important and here’s why.
Louis: Cool. Yeah. Thanks so much for going through this. I know it’s tough to pick something on the spot like this but you did a great job and I think people listening took a lot of notes already. Now let’s say you are going through this three hour interviews, you have a few people coming in that seem interesting, how do you select the right ones? What is your process then to select people that fit these values and that fits the type of people you want in your company?
Nadya: Yeah. I think we get a lot of people to interview. The reason for that is we want to get different perspectives, right and maybe somebody will have caught something that somebody else didn’t catch. Then we review right at the end of the interview and we make a decision right on the spot. The reason for that is so that it’s still fresh in our heads but we’ve, based on some of the mistakes we’ve made and I think Eugene and I, so Eugene’s the CEO, we think very similarly and we’re quite… We have a good balance and understanding the strengths in somebody else and I think we can spot very important differences. Other people that have interviewed, some people are not as experienced with interviewing and they might think somebody’s great and focus on the skills and maybe not pay as much attention to the core values or maybe not see the value in paying attention to that as closely but it’s really come down to, if Eugene and I are both 100% yes and we agree on the candidate, then or at least one of us has to be 100% yes in order to hire somebody.
Nadya: But in the past, there have been instances where I was like, this candidate is a really good fit and he’ll be like, you’re not seeing it right, this other person is a fit and I’m like, you’re wrong. This person isn’t a fit and then it’ll be this thing where I’m like, well, let’s hire both and then decide after, right and then sure enough, they’ll always be opportunities where one of us may have caught something that the other person didn’t. But yeah, I mean, I think as long as we keep coming back to this thought of, if we’re not 100% yes this is a good fit and there’s any type of hesitation, if there’s any sort of hesitation, we don’t move forward.
Louis: Yeah. I’m glad you’re mentioning this. I’ve made a mistake in the past where, you have something in the back of your head that says yes, it’s a maybe or it’s a yes but it’s… She did that or he did that I’m not too sure, usually from experience that blows up, right? I mean, from an interview, it’s a small thing and then they join and then it starts to become a big thing and then every day it’s bigger and bigger and after three months you’re like, fuck, what have we done? Yeah, it probably one of the biggest tip to give away for people hiring is like if it’s not 100% yes as you said, then it’s a no. It can’t just be a greenish yes. It has to be yes or no.
Nadya: Yeah. Yeah, totally.
Louis: You have that and you make the decision like this on the spot, right? Once, let’s say they’ve joined, let’s say you decide that you’re going to go ahead with those people, it’s about the onboarding and making sure they’re comfortable, they know what they’re doing. Before we move into this step then, is there anything in the step before that you’d like to mention that I haven’t asked you about that you think is important?
Nadya: Yeah so we have, I mean we have a pretty… A strong automated process for looking at applications. We don’t just bring anybody in for an interview. We don’t just screen call anybody. Our application forms are not necessarily conventional. We do ask for the resume and the cover letter et cetera but a lot of it is just different types of questions or give us… It depends on the role, right? It depends on what position you’re actually applying for but let’s say, we had a position for retention focused marketer and email focused marketer and the question wasn’t… It wasn’t just about the resume, it was like, here’s a tricky situation, what’s your thought process on addressing this problem? They don’t necessarily need to know the exact metrics in order to do that but that’s a huge screening part for us. If that question and the answer to that question isn’t amazing, we don’t even call them.
Nadya: If after on the phone, like we’ll spend some time on the phone, right? It’s usually half an hour to 40 minutes just chatting with them to get a good understanding of their culture and then if we really like them from that phone call, then we bring them in. The idea is we don’t want to waste their time with somebody who we’re not almost positive about already so we don’t bring anybody else in. Once somebody comes into the office, we have a pretty good track record of… It’s pretty good conversion rate but then even after we decide that we like the person, we give them a test, a take home test and that goes a little bit more in depth. We’ll pay them if it takes a long time, right. It’s like a contract position but you’ll be like, you have a couple hours, fill out this test, give us a detailed example and you can really tell the hard workers from the ones who aren’t.
Nadya: I remember, we had, one of my first SEO growth hires. I asked him to… He’s French so the concern was will he be able to write well? And then I was just like, yeah, he seems fine. I got him to do an, is for an SEO position so I was like, do an SEO audit of our site, answer these questions but write it as a blog post so I can see how you would format the content. He wrote this crazy huge audit. He definitely went above and beyond to answer the questions. I could see the amount of work and the research that went in there and this was an example of, I don’t know and I was like, yes, the work ethic is there, right. Let’s hire him. Things like that are what I focus on. Is like you can follow the basic instructions or you can take that and really make it something exceptional and that’s what’s more important.
Louis: I’m also glad you’re mentioning this. At Hotjar for example, that’s what we do when we hire people. There is always a task at the end that is paid. Usually take two to three days to complete and you have to talk to the people of the member of the team, certain member of the team to get it completely so you can see how they interact with you, you can see how they take feedback, you can see whether they are doing stuff or they’re just talking about doing stuff. Yeah. It’s also the great differentiator between a big yes and a big no. You can see straight away. It’s just so easy.
Louis: Yeah, the money it costs to pay someone for a contract like this to do a few hours, that’s just the money it’s going to cost you to make a bad hire. Just a no brainer, right. Maybe flipping that on its head before we move onto the next step. Thinking in a position of someone who wants to become a marketer who doesn’t necessarily have the experience, from what we said, what do you think are the advice we should give those folks? First be thorough, like if you have a task to do, do it 100% or 110%. Show what you’re made of. Do you have any other tips or advice?
Nadya: I mean, it’s hard for me. When I was starting out, I didn’t care, right? I was just looking for a job. I wasn’t necessarily like, oh my God, I want to be a marketer. I made that very clear in my cover letter. I’m like, listen, I’m going to be honest with you. Here’s my degree, here’s what I’m doing, here’s why I think I might be good at this but I don’t necessarily care that much. I was like, if you’re looking for somebody who has all the experience, all the skill sets, who’s going to do it the general way, great, go hire that person, don’t call me. This is my cover letter and I was, I think it was at the end of a bunch of interviews and I just, I had given up, I didn’t care anymore and I was just like, but if you’re looking for somebody who’s going to have a creative, who’s hardworking, who can think creatively and who’s a good critical thinker, then call me because that’s all I can offer but I don’t necessarily care about marketing but I’ll do it and I can do it well or figure it out. That’s how I got my job at Venngage, right? I got called maybe four months later.
Nadya: I don’t think it’s necessarily important for somebody to want to be a marketer. I think what’s more important is showing that, nobody, how many people actually care are so passionate about what they’re doing? Eventually you build the passion or you learn about it. Yeah, you can be a little bit excited by it but I think showing that you are hardworking, you can figure things out, you can think critically, you understand the value of putting in the effort and putting in the work and focusing on results, those are all qualities that are important for a marketer. If you are one of those people who was like, oh my God, my dream is to be a marketer. If that is the case, you should also have done a lot of research and probably gotten somewhere by now.
Nadya: If somebody’s like, I really want to be a marketer, you’ve read all the stuff, you’ve probably practiced it, you’re doing something. It always comes back to results. I believe more people who come in and they’re like, I don’t really want to be a marketer but I think or I haven’t thought about it but I think I could be good at it, here’s why. It’s the honesty. It’s like a half answer but that’s just my opinion.
Louis: No it’s not a half answer. It’s a great answer because one thing that I can extract from that as well is to be fucking honest and authentic, right? You don’t need to try to be someone else and I think the fact that you applied a few times and then you got sick of it and you basically pulled yourself into the paper, you actually showed your true colors in a sense, that’s when it ticked, right. I know it’s easy for me to say that from this perspective of just talking to each other. I’m not in a position where I need a job. I know it’s difficult to do but marketing is all about also standing out, making sure that you use some of those marketing skills to be noticed.
Louis: I would argue that taking some risk when it comes to applying such as the risk that you mentioned here is pretty much something I would advise people to do because everyone else is just the same cover letter, the same fucking CV template, the same thing and what is going to stand out for people, right?
Nadya: Yeah and if you’re pretending to be somebody else in your application, well guess what? You have to pretend to be that person for the rest of your job so you might as well be yourself because that’s who people are interested in. Of course it depends on the industry, right? This is just for… This is how I see it for SAS marketers in the startup environment but if you’re in the medical industry maybe, don’t do that. But yeah, I look for authentic people because it’s all about building relationships with users, with clients, with partners, whoever it is that you need to be. You’re a true self and if you’re not comfortable or confident enough with that, then why would anyone else like you?
Louis: So be authentic, be honest, be confident in yourself, put 110% in your work if you’re asked to do task. I think those are great advice. Let’s say we move onto the task stage, we are hiring this person, how do you like to involve them? How do you like to start managing them to make sure they are starting on the right foot?
Nadya: Yeah. We, again, it depends on the role specifically but we have a marketing playbook. We use Trello and we have a big checklist of all the stuff that we want to walk you through in your first and second week. We have what we call performance indicators. In the first week I usually go over all of our… How we do assessments and this is important because I don’t assess based on skills only, I assess based on core values, goals and skill development. I like to talk about this in the first week with every new hire because if they get scared by that conversation and the intensity of that conversation, I can already tell if they’re going to be a good fit.
Nadya: Then we have a playbook so they go through the playbook. There’s some general performance indicators just to see if they can execute on some tasks but it depends on the role. Most of the people that report to me now are typically on a different channel or different area so the expectation is a bit higher if they come in. I just ask them, I’m like, hey, what’s your plan for the next few weeks? Here’s the channel. What are you going to do to grow? How are you going to hit these results? Then from there I can guide them to the right place but I don’t believe in having a task based approach to managing, that’s not why I hire people.
Nadya: I hire people to do something that I can’t do because I don’t have the time or don’t necessarily have the specific skill development in that area and my job is just making the decisions and making sure that it’s focused on the goals and so I just tell them to tell me what they’re going to do and how they’re going to plan for it and then if they need advice on how to improve in that area, that’s where I come in but it’s more about again, continuing to assess the critical thinking and the follow through, the execution, the ideas, the data analysis, all of those other important soft skills that tie into marketing.
Louis: Remind me, how many are in your team now? How many marketers do you have?
Nadya: I don’t only manage marketing. Now with growth I manage operations as well so HR is under me. My direct reports include, I’ve seven direct reports and then there’s on the marketing side, three other managers or team leads. One is success, which is retention focus, there’s a few people. There are probably close to 15 people on just marketing. Yeah.
Louis: Yeah. Quite a bunch of people now. Remind me what you said about your onboarding, and the first week. You said you look at… You go through the core values with them and you mentioned a bunch of other stuff. How does the conversation go? What do you mean when people start to get scared? What is the intensity that you’re putting there? What do you tend to tell them?
Nadya: I mean, I’m no bullshit and I don’t sugarcoat anything when I give direction to people. It’s usually pretty to the point. If something’s not going well, I’ll say I try to tie it back. I’m not mean about it I’ll just try to focus on the facts, right so that’s what I’ll do and if somebody seems turned off or hurt by direct feedback, that’s usually a pretty big indicator for me that I’m like, if you’re going to get upset about this or take this personally, unfortunately, your job is going to be dealing with a lot of different types of rejection, right? Because if you’re doing SEO specifically too, you have to do a lot of outreach and you get a lot of rejection and there’s different types of partnerships or deals and if you have to be able to be resilient to overcome that so if I get any inclination that somebody is just like, this seems nerve wracking in the way that I communicate the expectations, then I’m usually, I don’t have maybe as high hopes for that person but yeah because we have let’s say the core values, right?
Nadya: If I talk about our core value of we own our jobs and this is the accountability thing we have different… It’s like a checklist so there’s a plus, a plus minus and a minus and what the expectation is for each of those categories and ideally everybody wants to be a plus, right? And I tell them, I’m like, if you’re a minus or you have anything, any of the core values, even one of them falls under a minus, that’s a bad sign and you probably not going to last so don’t even look at that. Just look at the top ones and that’s what you need to be aiming for and the bare minimum expectation, if you just want to meet the bar is a plus minus, right. Even that is pretty intense because when you’re looking at these, you’re like, holy shit, these expectations are high and the bar is really high and then I also tell them when you meet the bar, I’m going to raise it higher because the expectation is that you improve.
Nadya: If you meet the bar and you’re at a three now and then you keep doing the same thing for the rest of… Or you’re at a plus now you keep doing the same thing for the rest of the year, that’s not good enough because once you hit the bar, the bar goes higher up. It’s like limbo, right? Except it’s the opposite. You keep adjusting it and you keep having to compete against yourself and that’s the only way people can grow. Otherwise, you reached the ceiling really quick and then what? You’re going to get complacent and not care about your job anymore. That’s the first conversation that I have with people. It’s pretty intense conversation then that typically sets people in the right direction.
Louis: First day you’re starting out, you’re all fresh, all happy and boom, conversation with Nadya-
Nadya: You’re all excited.
Nadya: How you enter room I’m like bring your tissues.
Louis: You’re already fucking minus here. Okay, you only started with your minus everywhere. Shit’s going to have to happen or else. But more seriously, give me an example of an expectation that you might have in this plus minus thing. I don’t know, you mentioned SEO as an example of a role so maybe you can think of that.
Nadya: Yeah so with the core values, they’re all behavioral, they’re not focused on skillsets at all but then there’s certain tasks that you have to do that allow us to see if you’re results oriented or if you can actually execute on something. For SEO, we have a pretty robust process. In their first two weeks they have to get two links minimum if they’re on the content team. Again, it depends on which team you’re on but there’s always some type of task that you have to push out and assess in your first couple of weeks and we have sprints right across the whole company. It’s not just on the product side but it’s also on the marketing side so you have to have completed a few things in the sprint. Whether that’s if you’re writing, you have to get a guest post or you have to publish something on the blog or if you’re a video person, you have to come up with an idea and actually push it out.
Nadya: Ultimately everyone has to do promotion to some degree on our team and it always comes down to outreach, right? So we usually get people to go through the link process just because it gives you an idea of the framework required so everybody comes in knowing how to do SEO within the first couple of weeks because that is our bread and butter for acquisition so even if we have other channels and that maybe isn’t your channel, you have to do outreach anyway so you have to go through that process. If people complain about that or they’re like, I don’t want to do that, I’m like, well, that’s how we’re evaluating you so you do it anyway, right. But yeah, I mean in terms of our core values an example of one would be for owning your job, if you encounter a problem, you would always offer possible solutions for addressing it and those solutions are well-researched and justified and you have a track record of being right. It’s high expectations, right? You have to be right and that means you are making well justified decisions.
Louis: Well, okay. I’m getting scared even though I’m not even part of the team at this stage. Nice. Okay.
Nadya: I’m not a monster. I mean and then granted after the first couple of weeks when everyone’s scared then they realize what my personality is and start making fun of me so it doesn’t last very long. That fear.
Louis: But that’s what it takes, right to build a fast paced company. You’re bootstrapped, as you mentioned, you don’t have investors or anything like this so the money comes from customers. You need to serve them well, they need to stay, you need to acquire new ones, usually from word of mouth and SEO and all of that. I mean that’s what it takes, right. I’m glad you shared all of that with me because it really goes into the detail of what you need to do as a company to grow and therefore to have your people grow with you or else other people are going to take your place or other companies are going to take your place.
Louis: Thanks for sharing all of that with me. Super insightful. I think I can ask you thousands more questions around it but I don’t want to drain you too much because we have a few minutes left. I ask a few questions at the end of each podcast interview. I’d love to know your answer to those ones, especially to this one. That’s my favorite question, right? So you shared a few. There’s one that I’d like to ask. What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Nadya: Are you looking for a soft skill or…? I’m assuming it’s a soft skill if it’s for the next 20 or 30 years. I’m going to assume that it is and in terms of, that’s hard because there’s so many things that you need to know. But I guess one thing would be learning how to communicate across different departments and not being so siloed in your work. The reason for this is the best marketers understand how different teams work, what everybody’s job is and they really have a strong understanding of what is required in the weeds.
Nadya: There was a quote that I read that there’s two types of managers. There’s the ones that… There’s the managers and the leaders and there’s this assumption that CEO’s or people in the exec seats are powerful because they look down at everyone and they’re at the top and they have this authority but real power is being totally integrated and totally understanding all the moving parts and the reason for that is because you become more aligned. You can communicate and you can move in the same direction. I think that’s probably the most important thing because if you can learn how to successfully communicate with different parts of the team, not just in marketing, you yourself will become a more powerful marketer because you understand all the needs of the users and the company.
Louis: Can you share with me maybe one way to become better at this from experience? What’s the one thing to do?
Nadya: I mean, one thing that we practiced is we operate in squads. We used to be more functional teams where marketing was doing their own thing, product was doing their own thing but now we also have a marketing squad and there’s different teams or projects within that squad where we have engineers, we have product designers and we’re all working together on the solution that is very user focused because from our research, if you’re on retention, you’re still a marketer and there’s still targeted acquisition goals with that but a lot of the stuff comes down to product changes.
Nadya: With marketing, same thing, right? We want to attract more of the right people. We want to improve conversion rates, we want to change things across the funnel. You can’t just go and tell engineering, hey, put this together. You have to make sure that everybody’s working on the same thing that the different parts of the funnel are not broken, all act aligned and understand who the user is and we’re doing all of the work we’re doing to make that impact. Operating on a squad basis could be one of those things that you do or try even if it’s just with one project.
Louis: Yeah. Mixing and matching the functions and departments towards one objective that is geared towards the user. As you said, retention, it’s about keeping people engaged and using the product, could be conversion. The pirate metrics, like the AR, the acquisition activation, revenue retention and I’m going to forget one, referral, there you go. Yeah, I like what you shared there Because at Hotjar we do the same actually. We have a tribes we call them. It’s pretty much the same and it seems like a lot of tech companies and even companies outside of tech do the same because they’ve understood the value of communicating with each other and focusing on the people behind the screen. What are the top three resources you’d recommend listeners? It could be anything. It could be podcasts, events, books, what are your top three?
Nadya: I try to read mostly books and blogs lately. My focus has mostly been on management and leadership and strategy content, not so much tactical marketing but the most useful thing for me in terms of getting information is actually been talking to people and reaching out. One of the things that we do in our team is what we called growth interview. Where the expectation is, once a month, everybody has to interview somebody who’s succeeding really well at something that they want to succeed in, in the realm of marketing. Let’s say it’s emails, somebody who’s really good at converting through email. You’d interview them for about 30 minutes, buy them a drink, buy them a coffee, whatever and then you share that two minutes worth of points that you learned.
Nadya: The idea for that is to expand everyone’s network but also, people don’t always write the real things, they don’t share that as much out in the open. Having a conversation with somebody is really important because then you can also come back and keep talking to them later. In terms of podcasts, I really like the podcast Masters Of Scale. I just like listening to the founders and their thought process on how, from the early days and all the mistakes that they made. I learn from other people’s mistakes and from practicing and doing things. I mean for SEO Traffic Think Tank, Matthew Barby’s SEO group, really useful place to meet people. A lot of really smart SEOs in there. I meet a lot of people at events, I speak at a lot of conferences. Just networking I think is probably the biggest learning thing for me.
Louis: Yeah, great answer. I completely agree with you. I’ve learned more from talking to people on this podcast than I have from reading books or listening to podcasts myself. It’s just great to meet people who are much smarter than you, who have done stuff, who figure stuff out, who’ve made mistakes so you don’t have to do the same. Yeah, concur with everything you’ve said so far. Nadya you’ve been a pleasure to talk to. I really mean it. Super authentic, super honest, super actionable or specific stuff out there that I know people who want to hire people, also people who want to be hired will learn from. Thank you very much for your time. Where can listeners connect with you and learn more from you?
Nadya: Yeah. Check out the Venngage site or my personal site is just, thisisnadya.com and I have a contact form through there so that’s the spot or on Twitter. I’m pretty active there.
Louis: All the links will be added to the show notes of the episode, right so if you don’t know how to spell Nadya, which is N-A-D-Y-A right, thisisnadya.com and all of that, it will be on everyonehatesmarketers.com. Again, Nadya, thanks so much for your time.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.