Retention is Everyone’s Responsibility! A Conversation With Buffer’s CPO

Episode 46 April 14, 2021 00:53:05
Retention is Everyone’s Responsibility! A Conversation With Buffer’s CPO
The Breakout Growth Podcast
Retention is Everyone’s Responsibility! A Conversation With Buffer’s CPO

Apr 14 2021 | 00:53:05


Show Notes

Recently, we have focused the lens of The Breakout Growth Podcast on the role of product in driving sustainable growth. We had a super-interesting conversation with Georgia Vidler, Canva’s former Head of Product, and this week we picked up that theme with Maria Thomas, Buffer’s Chief Product Officer. 


Buffer provides social media tools to facilitate authentic engagement with end-users. Customers can pre-schedule posts on multiple channels, engage with commenters, create reports, and more using the service. Maria is relatively new to the company, having previously served as VP of Product Management at Bitly, so it is interesting to hear her compare and contrast her experiences between these two fast-growing businesses.


To Maria, the single biggest growth driver at Buffer has been “brand beyond the product.” 


She explains that brand recognition is a tremendously important factor for both Buffer and Bitly, but with different go-to-market strategies Buffer’s brand in the context of its mission is what she sees as the company’s secret sauce.


The ability to speak to customers on a deeper mission-focused level has been a key factor in Buffer’s approach, and Maria explains that “Buffer was a product-led growth company even before PLG was cool.” From a product perspective, this has meant putting intense focus on building the user experience to power acquisition, retention, and expansion.  


We also learn that the company’s super-transparent culture that embraced remote work long before the pandemic began, has helped drive Buffer’s data-driven test/learn culture. However, it has also created interesting communications challenges along the way. As Maria describes how she has overcome these and other challenges, we get great insights into the world of growth from a product perspective.


This is a fun one, enjoy!


We discussed:


* Getting used to Buffer’s super transparent culture (3:30)

* How a well-known brand impacts growth, plus its impact on product (7:35)

* Highlighting Bitly vs. Buffer when it comes to go-to-market strategies (7:50)

* Key growth factors and challenges in Buffer’s Product Led Growth approach (8:34)

* Advantages and challenges of a no-meetings culture and asynchronous communications (13:05)

* Working with data; super-important but not a replacement for working with customers (19:41)

* Why MAU is the right North Star Metric to drive growth at Buffer (24:28)

* Organizational leadership where product and marketing are in constant communications (26:30)

* Why Maria believes in a dedicated growth team approach (27:00)

And much, much, more . . . 

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:08 Welcome to the breakout growth podcast, where Sean Ellis interviews, leaders from the world's fastest growing companies to get to the heart of what's really driving their growth. And now here's your host Sean Ellis Speaker 1 00:00:23 In this week's episode of the breakout growth podcast, Ethan Gara, and I chat with Maria Thomas chief product officer at buffer, a company that makes social media tools for authentic engagement with end users. So this conversation is a great follow on to our previous episode, where we connected with former head of product at Canva, Georgia. Viddler. If you haven't checked out that episode, I highly recommended it's our most popular episode to date. So growth from a product perspective is certainly interesting. Maria was able to share insights not only from her role at buffer, but also from her previous role at Bitly. Ethan, what would you say stood out to you as important learning from this Speaker 2 00:01:01 Conversation? For me, Maria really made an interesting point about how retention is built into a company's value proposition. She explains that analytics help product teams to build that long-term connection, but ultimately as you, and I always say it's value that drives growth. Speaker 1 00:01:15 Yeah, absolutely. But retention becomes something that's really everyone's responsibility through that lens of value. And I think you can see how buffers alignment around monthly active users may use as their North star helps drive the business. I found it particularly interesting that they were able to tie in organizational structures and processes to that. And Maria feels pretty strongly that you need a dedicated growth team to drive product led growth. Speaker 2 00:01:43 Yeah, I think our audience will really appreciate the practical elements of the discussion. Maria offered really good advice for leading growth and made some great points about the need for strong communications between product and marketing leads. So I think it'll be great. Speaker 1 00:01:55 Yep. I agree. I think the series of interviews that we've been doing with product leads offers some super actionable insights. So I'm excited to bring this to the, to the audience. Uh, we probably should dive into it. You want to get to Speaker 0 00:02:07 Yeah, let's go for it. I'm Maria. Speaker 1 00:02:18 Yeah. Welcome to the breakout growth podcast. Hi Sean. Um, yeah, we're super excited to have you on and I'm joined by my cohost, Ethan, Gar, Ethan. Speaker 2 00:02:27 Hey, nice to see you again, Sean and necessary as well. Maria. Nice to meet you. Speaker 1 00:02:32 Yeah. So before we get started, um, and, and talking about how, how growth is working at buffer, it would be great, uh, for, for the few people on the planet who may not be familiar with buffer now, I'm sure there's, there's more than one, but buffer has been around for a long time and, and um, a lot of people really, uh, love it and I've, I've used it for a really long time, but can you tell us a bit more about what buffer is and, and the problem that it solves? Absolutely. Speaker 3 00:03:00 Uh, yes. So buffer is a social media management platform. Um, it is built purposefully for small businesses and it helps them publish to social media. Um, we also help, um, our customers analyze social media results, engage with their customers by replying to their Facebook or Instagram comments. Um, now the interesting thing is that we're actively considering expanding our use case, uh, perhaps beyond social media, into adjacent areas while staying committed to our small business customers. Um, and other, uh, fact that a lot of people know about us is that we also happen to be a fully distributed team working remotely around the world. Um, and we really believe in transparency at buffer and everything from our revenue to our customer, count to our salaries. You can see my salary on our website to our product roadmap, all of that is published on our website. Speaker 1 00:03:52 So you, you haven't been there a real long time, right? You, you, you came here Speaker 3 00:03:55 That's right. Just early November. Yes. Speaker 1 00:04:00 What was your thinking when you came into a company that's that transmitter? I don't think I've ever seen a company that is as transparent as buffer, uh, when, when I, when I saw those kinds of numbers being published, that's, that's super cool. Do you know what that kind of the reason behind that is and, and your initial impression on it? Speaker 3 00:04:17 Uh, no, absolutely. It was definitely unusual. This is not something I've seen in other companies, certainly not in the companies I've worked at, I've worked for two very large public companies and then startups that, uh, guarded the numbers much more than buffer ever did. Um, yeah, Joel guest Kony, he's our CEO. And from the very start, he's always had a vision for running an extremely transparent business, uh, again, remote distributed and just, he believes in sharing his numbers with the community and the world and the product community in particular. And I think we've benefited a tremendous amount from that. Um, over the years in a way that no effort is being spent on hiding anything, um, we're very clear and transparent was our customers. Then they can choose to stay with us if they see that we're working on the next innovation, they really value. Um, uh, it's really attractive for a lot of people when they join our company. And, uh, we also get a lot of advice from, uh, the product and business community, which is really helpful Speaker 1 00:05:16 Crowdsourcing when everyone has the information they can give good advice. Speaker 3 00:05:20 Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But, uh, definitely for, you know, four minutes while joining buffer, it felt, you know, it felt unusual, a little strange, a little slightly uncomfortable, but I fully embraced it and, um, really enjoyed it so far. Speaker 2 00:05:34 We've seen a lot of fast growing companies, really embracing transparency and visibility. So I think that, I think it's really great. Um, I, I think I noticed you were previously a VP of product, I think at Bitly. And I'm curious, what are some of the, like the key differences and similarities between your approach to product management at these two companies maybe in light of that transparency? Speaker 3 00:05:54 Sure, sure. Absolutely. Um, well, uh, one of the things that I think both be then, but for really share is brand recognition, right? A lot of people know about Bewdley my nine-year-old son. He knew what Bradley was before I worked there, because it's all the short links embedded in the YouTube videos that you watch is non-stop. Um, but, uh, yeah, I love to, that's a great question. I, I, I'd love to compare two companies and chat about a little bit about what's similar and different. So, um, so on similarities, both companies are serving marketers, both in social media space and both started around the same time just as Twitter came on the scene about 10, 11 years ago. Um, uh, and, uh, another thing interesting thing about both Bigley and buffer is that if you look at it from the product side, both have sort of almost a ubiquitous use case for Bitly its ability to shorten a memorable link and for buffer it's to publish social content to multiple platforms. And it's a really, really interesting challenge, I think for product people to solve, because at some point you have so many personas using your product because they're so ubiquitous, you have consumers shortening links, you have enterprises shortening links on buffer side, same thing. We have agencies, we have prosumers consumers, small businesses. And so it's really important to stay focused on the segment that you serving. Um, so that's, but that's so, so it's, it's a shared challenge for both companies. Speaker 2 00:07:20 Yeah. That's really, that's really interesting. Yeah. To think about just the massive it, the more ubiquitous you are, the more personas you have to have to cater to that's that's a good point. Speaker 3 00:07:31 Absolutely. Absolutely. And a really big challenge to stay focused, um, for both companies have absolutely gigantic free, uh, freemium footprint, um, that creates architectural challenges for engineering concerns around trust and safety because we're playing in the social media space that's ever evolving, but finally, and I think the biggest similarities around the brand recognition, again, both companies are just so well known now on the differences side between Bitly and buffer there, uh, quite a bit of differences, but all primarily on the commercial and go-to-market side, uh, historically Bewdley has been a freemium plus enterprise model. And, um, inevitably as you start considering going broader with market adoption, perhaps offering products to small businesses, you end up in the channel conflict. So, um, so for Bewdley I think the ongoing challenge is really being clear about the customer segments that they want to serve again, because there's just so much opportunity in all of these segments. Speaker 3 00:08:29 You know, any of us can write a fantastic business case and probably not going to be wrong with, uh, with Bewdley in contrast to that at buffer the one and only go to market strategy that Buffer's always used has been product led growth and, uh, in a way, uh, you know, Buffalo was appealed G company before it was cool, uh, before it became really as you know, the word that everyone adopted and the model that everyone embraced. Um, it's always been focused on small businesses and have not previously, and we do not intend to have a sales organization, um, helping us grow. Speaker 1 00:09:06 So was it, was that part of the attraction, uh, to, um, buffer being a little bit more focused on a single market and not some of the challenges that you were seeing at Bitly? Speaker 3 00:09:18 Oh, absolutely. As a, as a, as a product person, you can imagine that that's can be very attractive, right. To be able to concentrate and focus on, um, you know, just a really logical connection between here's the customers we serve. Here's a product that works for them. Here's a pricing that works for them, you know, again, lack of that channel conflict. Uh, yes. That's, you know, naturally I think something that many of us gravitate to, Speaker 1 00:09:41 And, you know, it's interesting, I've seen companies like HubSpot be really deliberate about who they target as a, as a customer base as well. And I think a lot of times it's like, Oh, can we really build a big business if we only target that customer? But, um, last I checked, I think HubSpot's like a $20 billion valuation now. And, um, and yeah, so having that really singular focus on, on even like the small market for them probably even less of the medium market. Um, so I think, I think that can be a really important driver. I'm curious though, when you look at, um, I just growth overall at buffer, what, what do you think over time has been really the most important driver or, or maybe top two for, for the success that Buffer's had? Um, Speaker 3 00:10:29 Yeah. Um, I think there were a lot of factors. I think the, if I had to choose the singular most important one, I think it's the brand beyond the product. I think buffer has been. I think that's, what's unique about buffer aside from having really great product market fit aside from having strong value proposition, um, uh, accessible pricing, um, good team aside from all of that. I think that was, I think that is the secret sauce for us that, you know, we speak to the customer from the deeper why perhaps the, uh, you know, thinking about Simon Sinek's golden circle and sort of that why we exist. Um, and we exist to create the world was more small businesses that do good while doing well. Um, and, uh, we're really try to, uh, speak to the customer from that, uh, deeper perhaps emotional standpoint. Um, and I think the role we play in the reinventing, the future work again, remote distributed workforce, we work four day weeks, these days, which is fantastic. Today's my Friday. And I get to spend time with two of you. Speaker 1 00:11:32 This isn't work, I guess it's fun. So, so I'm curious then if, if brand is kind of the secret sauce is driving it and you you've talked a bit about part of the building of that brand, is that transparency, uh, in the, in the product role, are you, how much are you thinking about brand? How much are you thinking about is like, does this stay on brand? Is this, is this the type of experience that enhances our brand over time? Uh, or, or are you really more just, just kind of approaching it? What do people need? How do we make sure we keep doing more of the right thing and less of the not so right thing? Speaker 3 00:12:13 Oh, you know, excellent question and something that on the product side that buffer, we, we need to spend time thinking deeper about that. Um, I think, um, I think we have, uh, relied more on our content marketers, uh, to drive that word of bounce and that, you know, brand position and the, uh, that, that incredible, you know, incredible again, brand beyond the product. I do feel we can do better on the bringing that right into the product experience, um, and connecting it better to that. Uh, we do have some ideas and some plans of how we can bring that to small businesses who, um, who are also looking to reinvent the future work. And also, I think in about their team members, their, we call employees team members here at buffer, um, and, and perhaps showing them a path, not only by sharing content and ideas, but actually helping them through the product experience. Um, so we're not quite there yet, but that's something that's on our minds. Speaker 1 00:13:08 So what are the key challenges that come to mind that you've had to overcome in your first six months here at buffer? Speaker 3 00:13:15 Oh, sure. Um, yes. Uh, so, uh, so again started right before the election and, uh, uh, then, so I've been there for about four or five months. Um, I would say that aside from, um, just the classic challenges of trying to learn about the product and the customers and the domain space and, and striking the right balance as the new leader was the very well established culture. Um, I did face a unique challenge was, uh, what buffer calls, asynchronous communication or written communication. So imagine where all of your, uh, coworkers, all of your peers are distributed worldwide. Um, the, uh, the culture is really geared towards, uh, no meetings, if at all possible. What does that mean? That means a lot of writing. And I don't know if you can tell, but I have an accent. So English is not my native language, and I'm really challenged by a lot of product writing and putting all my committee, my thoughts to paper. Speaker 3 00:14:11 Um, so I found some, uh, opportunities to, uh, use video. I'm a huge fan of loom. So I record just short, uh, quick videos for my team. They love it. It saves me tremendous amount of time and I don't, and I don't have to rely on Grammarly just as much. Um, so, uh, that that's just was a unique challenge, uh, for me personally, um, otherwise I feel very blessed was the, uh, team, the product and design team. And, uh, Beth has very harmonious relationship between product and engineering, which has helped me tremendously in the first month Speaker 1 00:14:44 Is, is a team, um, not just kind of physically dispersed, but are, is it, um, kind of different as well? Like as a w what kind of countries are represented in the, in the mix of the team, Speaker 3 00:14:58 Think of a country and, well, we know that in every country on the planet, uh, but, uh, we are, uh, really operating around around the clock. So we have team, team members and teammates and all the major time zones. We have, uh, folks in Singapore and Australia in Eastern Europe and Nordics in a lot in North America, South America, a lot in UK. Um, and, uh, but yeah, so we, we really operate across. Speaker 1 00:15:24 So it's, it's interesting that, um, you know, I think a lot of times, it's not just even in the language that you use to communicate when it's, when it's a multicultural team, it's, it's communicating on, on the right level for each culture. And I don't know, have you, are you familiar with the, uh, the culture map book, the book called the culture map? I just read it, um, based on a recommendation from, uh, from the Netflix CEO, he in his recent book, um, they talk about that, uh, you know, the Netflix has done so much international expansion in recent years, that the formula that it works really well in the United States, they were finding that certain parts of that didn't work so well in different countries. And that they got really familiar with this book, the culture map to adjust the message to some places you need to be super explicit. Other countries, it's a, it's kind of a different way of communicating. And so, um, for me, working with a lot of international companies kind of directly I'm working with a Brazilian company right now, being able to being able to find the right way to, to couch things is just as important as, as the clarity of the language that I'm using. Speaker 3 00:16:34 No, no, I, I can imagine. And, uh, Joel and the executive team over the years, they've done a lot of work on really refining our values and majority of the values. I actually, um, I think you hit the nail on the head there about that. That's about collaboration, the, um, approaching each other was not just open minds, but open hearts, um, taking time to reflect, being thoughtful with each other. Um, and, uh, from what I can see, it seems to be working well for buffer, but I should definitely check out that book. Speaker 1 00:17:06 Yeah. But fortunately, I think having, I mean, with the pandemic, there's probably an advantage to a team that has been, uh, a remote team from the beginning that, that probably didn't, didn't change a whole lot, at least in the day-to-day working life of people. Speaker 3 00:17:21 Oh, huge. Huge. That was another, to be honest, part of attraction for me in joining buffer because, uh, I was actually a person who was a staunch supporter of when you, we all need to go to the office to be more productive and being thrust into, with pandemic, into work from home kids, starting at home husband at home, uh, all of those challenges, I actually became quickly a convert. And then I quickly realized that, uh, wouldn't that be amazing to go work for a company has not just solved this. They've, you know, like written a book on how to here 10, 11 years ago. Speaker 2 00:17:56 Yeah. It's funny you say that because I was in a role where we were working five days a week in the office, and then, uh, our director of engineering, uh, suggested we work. We worked from home on Fridays and I was so resistant to it is, you know, just three, four years ago. Um, eventually we did it and it took, and it worked out fine. And I think it was actually, you know, I was wrong. It was, it was really good for, for our, for our culture, which was what I was concerned about because we had such a great culture. But then, you know, now, like in the face of COVID like we've had this transformation to remote work and it's just very quickly, I mean, I think people have learned to adapt. It's neat that you're working for an organization that embraced that so early and, and unders, you know, and has been able to capitalize on that and saw that it can be a valuable way to collaborate. Speaker 3 00:18:41 Yeah. Ethan, I'm so glad that you mentioned that that's a safe same experience here. I was very skeptical about four day workweek when that was suggested. And now I am a full supporter. I have fully internalized it. I experienced it as an employee as a huge benefit, and I can see it in my team. How just how much more productive we are in the remaining four days of the week, because we have that extra day off. Speaker 1 00:19:04 Yeah. So I, I kind of went the opposite direction at, uh, at growth hackers before, before I sold the business. I had actually, the team got really excited when I suggested that we, we would do a one day work from home, uh, each week. And, um, when I gave them the choice of Saturday or Sunday, they were a little less enthusiastic. Speaker 2 00:19:25 I've I've heard, I've heard Sean make that joke before. So I was laughing. Speaker 1 00:19:28 It wasn't a joke. I actually, I did. I, uh, I set them up pretty well in the, in the office, but so, um, let's, let's kind of move a little bit more into the kind of day to day execution of product. And I'm, I'm curious how much you use metrics in, in your approach to product management. If, if, if it's primarily, you know, good qualitative feedback from people and you, and it informs your, your gut or your using metric for identifying opportunities and feedback loops, if you're moving in the right direction. Um, the be really curious to hear your thoughts on that. Speaker 3 00:20:07 Yeah, no great question. Um, loca, uh, as a product led growth company, we, we will look at metrics all day, all day long, every time. Uh, the D I don't think there's a day that goes by that someone doesn't build a new dashboard in Mixpanel. Uh, we instrument, uh, all the events we can in our product. We use segments, we use Pendo, we use Mixpanel, um, and we, uh, just continuously analyze, you know, like really everything and anything we're building, um, explorations for new products, um, testing experiments, running experiments on new ideas, validating usability, um, you know, it's just really an ongoing process. Every function within what we call EPD engineering, product design, they obviously look at data through slightly different lens, right? Like the product team would always be looking at metrics through the lens of, okay, how many customers we've delighted. Our engineering infrastructure team is looking at how many posts went out to social network. Successfully designers are looking of time to click to the next button. So, um, there's just always a kind of a different way to look at it now, data naturally, of course, doesn't replace, uh, talking to customer. So, uh, our product managers and product marketers, they do an excellent job of just chatting with customers all the time. Um, walking them through prototypes, uh, we watch full story and we, you know, we, we show customers prototypes to get the early feedback. Yeah, Speaker 1 00:21:35 Yeah. And, um, one of the things that jumped out at me is when you kind of went through that list of, of segment and Pendo and mixed panel, I'm curious as it, yeah, I know at Facebook, for example, it's a, it's a prerequisite for, I'm not sure if it's everyone in product, but definitely in growth for everyone needs to learn sequel to even qualify to be on the team. Um, is most of your team pretty comfortable running their own queries and mixed panel, or do they lean more on data analysts for that? And, uh, it's kinda kinda curious on, on individuals use of data. Speaker 3 00:22:10 Uh, sure. Uh, let me just first give you my perspective. I used to be, you know, some years ago, believer in every product manager should be able to write SQL queries. Um, I think I personally got tired of writing sequel queries. So I lead my teams in the direction of using really smart tools that can outsource some of that activity. So, uh, Hans Mixpanel and Pendo, and more lightweight tools where, you know, product product management doesn't have to spend three hours building a really smart query. Um, so look, it's, I think it's, uh, uh, from, from my, my perspective is that for product manager, it's a nice to have to really understand how data is structured and, uh, how to run a SQL query. Well, uh, but at the end of the day, I, I, I really inspire them to, to be thinking deeper about the business problem. Speaker 3 00:22:57 So was that, um, uh, at buffer, we are lucky to have, we do have a dedicated data team of data scientists and data engineers, and they help us with the structure and, um, making sure that Mixpanel runs well and that all again say instrumented well, uh, but they don't do business analysis for us. So we ha we as a product organization, we have to come up with the business case, the right set of questions. We do rely on them to validate some of our assumptions and help us perhaps structure analysis. Um, but ultimately it's with product manager to, uh, really confirm that the business case. Speaker 1 00:23:32 Cool. Yeah. I mean, it's interesting even for, for myself who I've always thought of myself as pretty good with data, but I think I still lean mostly on canned reports and kind of asking analysts to get when I, when I had a question and just in the last couple of years, as I've gotten better at pulling my own data out of Mixpanel or amplitude, it's amazing how, how much more curious I've become that? It seems like every answer I have, I very quickly follow on with, if that's the case, then I wonder, you know, and to be able to just like jump into that next thing and the next, and kind of peel back that onion, um, is really empowering. And, uh, and so it's, it's definitely, it's definitely something that, um, I think the more people can get comfortable using the tools to answer their own questions that they'll find themselves become more curious over time, and then more, more tied to outcomes, uh, that, that are driven by the types of things they're doing day to day. And so I'm curious as well, if, uh, if you guys have a North star metric, do you, do you have something that, that kind of cross-functionally every way, you know, you mentioned the engineering team might be looking at this metric and that, but is there, is there something that's like a value based metric that everyone kind of looks at and celebrates together to say, yeah, we're, we're making great progress in providing a lot more value for customers? Speaker 3 00:24:58 Uh, yes we do. So our North star metric is monthly active users. Um, so we have, uh, it was spent a lot of time, uh, was Joel and was the executive team, you know, going through, you know, all the various possibilities and, and really landed on, you know, for us as a company for where we at for where we want to go for the vision that we want to drive, which is all about helping small businesses, uh, grow and, and, and, and really having more small businesses to influence was how ideas, uh, we all felt that, uh, monthly active users is really our North star metric. Um, and, uh, and, and as soon as I say that, I want to follow up with the caveat that it's hard, right? It's hard to say that it's not MRR, that it's not true, you know, churn or customer satisfaction metric it's, it is just simply mile. Uh, and it challenges us at times to, uh, to really debate that and think about it and, and run, you know, run new ideas through that lens. And just really question like, okay, this can help us drive revenue. Does it also at least help us drive active user base and expand our market? Um, so, uh, yes, we do have a North star metric, and I'm proud to say that we're very aligned, cross-functionally marketing product engineering. We'll just try and to drive that one goal. Speaker 1 00:26:19 That's great. That's, that's fantastic. Uh, Ethan, I've been, I've been a little dominating with the questions lately. Speaker 2 00:26:25 You have Sean, but, uh, I'm going to let it go, but, uh, no, Maria that, um, I think that actually dovetails really into the next area I wanted to explore with you, which is sort of the organization and process. Um, so I'm curious how you're organized for growth. Like, what do you think is the ideal way for startups to organize their teams? Do you suggest separate product growth and marketing Speaker 1 00:26:44 Teams, or how do you look at that? Speaker 3 00:26:47 Uh, yes. Great question. And I think that there've been so much thinking about this and different companies are trying different methods. And, and I think it's a hard question to answer, and I don't know if there is like absolutely the right way to do it. I can tell you what I've learned over years and from experience in three different startups. Um, it is my opinion that, uh, and that's what I have bring into buffer is that, um, ultimately the, the product experience and the product led growth, they needs to be a dedicated product leader who drives growth via product. There also should be a dedicated and very important and leveled at the same level growth leader on the marketing side. And they two she'll collaborate like all day long, be extremely in sync collaborate and drive the same metric. But at the end of the day, each of them are responsible for different parts of the user experience. Speaker 3 00:27:44 Right? The marketing growth leader is focused on the funnel and the top of the funnel and then performance marketing and email marketing. And there's plenty to do there. And on the product side, and to me, for me, product starts with sign-up experience. So from that point on, there's a handoff from marketing into product. Now the product leader, the product growth leader takes over. And, uh, my, uh, strong recommendation to companies is to dedicate a team to grow if growth matters to you, and you want to see meaningful results through product led growth dedicate a team of staffed engineer, full stack engineers, um, have a dedicated growth PM and, uh, and let them really focus on it because inevitably, if not, then priorities will get overshadowed growth priorities will be always overshadowed by functional requirements on the product side. Um, so to me, that's, that's, that's what I've seen to be a really good formula. And I'm happy to expand on what I have seen not works Speaker 1 00:28:44 Well. I I'll just jump in real quick to say that I actually think that's one of the best explanations that I've heard of a good way to organize it. And I agree that there's, there's no one size fits all perfect way to organize it. I think, um, the, one of the big challenges of, of kind of clear delineation between product and marketing is that handoff that you touched on that on, on the product side, most, you know, good product people say, well, we talk to our customers a lot and collect feedback. And the problem is that most of those customers are the ones that are already using your product. And the challenge is that all the ones who kind of tried to use your product a little bit and didn't use it because they, they couldn't quite get onboarded into it. That's, that's often a bigger opportunity. Speaker 1 00:29:35 And I see a lot of product teams that are much more long-term product roadmap focus, then how do we use product to drive more impact for more people? And, and they, you know, and so you could say, okay, well that, that onboarding funnel should then be marketing because they're about bringing in the new people. But traditionally marketing teams just don't have the, um, the, the skills, uh, on the team and just the, the kind of culture of being able to actually run experiments that are kind of more product experiments in the, in that first user experience on the product. So I liked the way that you described it. I think that's, uh, that's that if I, if somebody asked me what I would recommend, that that's probably pretty close to what I would recommend. In fact, that is, um, something that Ethan and I were working on a project together, uh, just recommended for a marketplace business where that was, that was the recommendation I had mostly because I heard that the, when I, when I heard the strengths of the product person, I thought you're leaning too much on the idea of an outsider doing growth, where I think how good your product lead is. Speaker 1 00:30:39 You could probably put more growth responsibilities, even if there's dedicated people to do those things, reporting to that product person. But there's, there's just things that kind of belong in product a little bit more. And of course, then there's, there's companies that have like just a whole separate growth team that almost creates a new silo, and that tends to work well for some, but you were going to actually talk on, on some things that you've seen not work well, is that one of the things you've seen not work well? Speaker 3 00:31:05 Yes. Yes. And yes, but just to touch on something you said earlier, like I think having it, as soon as the user steps into the product domain, through sign-up and starts going through onboarding, it is so important to whoever's designing that product to have really strong user user experience expertise. You know, there's just no substitute for that. You know, you, you know, we could be looking at data all day long, and if someone just doesn't have that, and that sometimes happens with marketers, um, that that's really a loss, I think, for across the board for the customer, for, for growth, et cetera. Um, so yes, I think that's why it's important to have a product leader who perhaps doesn't maybe talk to customers as much who've already established, but really obsesses over, well, how come Oh, we're onboarding conversion rate is only 30% or whatever the case may be. Speaker 3 00:31:53 Um, now to, to, to go back to on your question of what doesn't work, what I've seen, not work as well. Um, it's the organizational desire to formulate a cross-functional group? Where was a lot of people drawn from various organized functional organizations, like someone from support and someone from marketing and someone from product and someone from design, and let's call them growth and let's tell them, you know, Godspeed and go run growth for the company. Um, and you know, as much as there, you know, some amazing ideas can come out of this. It's just, uh, I think it's hard because that's where accountability is not always clear. And you almost observe this like where everyone makes decisions and then maybe no one makes decisions. So again, you know, having like Cree clear accountability, like you are the product growth leader, this is your responsibility to obsess over this, and you are the marketing growth leader. And to please collaborate, I think that's a, that's a really good formula Speaker 1 00:32:55 That makes a lot of sense. Ethan, any ups on that? Speaker 2 00:32:59 Uh, I just, it was interesting to me from, well, two things that you said, one is earlier, you said, uh, when he talked about dedicated product lead and dedicated marketing lead, I thought one really important nuance. You mentioned there is just how important it is that they're communicating all day long. I think that's a real, I think that's a real driver of success for growth across an organization, because you do have potentially different metrics that you're, you know, that you're looking at day to day from those different perspectives. But, uh, if you're not communicating, then you're not necessarily looking at the North star metric, um, there. So yeah. So yes, Speaker 1 00:33:30 And if, and if they can put their, their, their communication in their individual areas of responsibility, in context to that North star metric, I think that's the common ground. We're both moving that metric, but I'm doing it with new people. You're doing it with, you know, engagement and however, wherever you kind of, whatever levers you're controlling, but at least being able to know the role you play in moving that North star metric. Speaker 3 00:33:54 Uh, look, I, I think so in the, again, using the product led growth as a framework, it may not be a perfect analogy, but they're not analogous relationship is akin to sales leader and the marketing leader talking to each other where the sales leader would say, Hey, where am I leads? And the marketing leader will say, Hey, what are you doing about converting them to bank customers back and forth? Plenty of times. Exactly. So I think on the growth side, having the marketing leader, you know, where the product leader should challenge them, Hey, are you sending me the right customers here into my activation flow or my onboarding flow? And they would say like, Hey, I am, you know, but like, what are you doing to, uh, unlock their potential and get the most value? Um, so there needs to be those checks and balances there. Speaker 1 00:34:40 Yeah. My, uh, the conversation that I've had with the sales leader in the past was often a missing an expletive in the, uh, it's, where are my expletive leads. And, Speaker 2 00:34:50 And why have you not followed up on the ones you've already got? Yeah, Speaker 1 00:34:54 But I think that, like, if you can step back and say, cause I actually had a conversation recently where someone said, um, you know, our conversion rate dropped. Oh no, but, um, if a new channel incrementally grew the North star metric, who cares if they had in it and did it in a profitable way, who cares if the average conversion rate dropped in the process. And so it becomes this lens to look through where you don't start saying, Oh, this metric is too, is more important because it's an average conversion rate or it's something else it's it's that, that ultimately everything contributes to the, to the ultimate value that customers are getting and ideally your North star metrics going to reflect that, Speaker 3 00:35:36 Sean. So I just, I agree with absolutely everything you just said because, um, otherwise, you know, like we, growth leaders can get too in the weeds though, and like obsessing over a particular conversion metric and how come it doesn't match them benchmarks. And, you know, we'll start reading each other's blog posts and like, why, why isn't this conversion rate moving while the North star is actually doing great. So that's what matters. Yeah. And every product is going to be of course, unique and different. Speaker 1 00:36:03 Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Well, let's, let's dig into the, the growth engine a bit for buffer. Um, I think the, uh, you know, especially as we talk about, okay, layering a team across this, and you're all, everybody's kind of controlling different parts of it and we're trying to grow these, these monthly active users. Um, maybe like, I, I like to start not just at all the steps, but just kind of like the big picture of what it, what that path is from first discovering buffer to becoming a raving fan of buffer. W what does that typically look like? How, how are they finding it and what's, what's the path through the product? Speaker 3 00:36:38 Uh, yes. So, um, so we believe that the primary method of user acquisition for us is continues to be word of mouth. Um, it's one small business telling another, Oh, okay. So you don't just publish to Facebook. You're now publishing to multiple platforms, consider buffer. They've been around for a long time. Oh, sure. I've heard of buffer. And so then they arrive to our website. They see that there is a lot of interesting content, but ultimately they sign up for product. And, um, I think that there are, uh, perhaps multiple, uh, you know, special kind of special things about us that nudge them in the direction of being like a really raving, happy customer. I think one of those key things for us is support. Um, we have, uh, so even on the free product, our customers have access to our support specialists and that's pretty uncommon in the industry. Speaker 3 00:37:28 Um, so our support specialists have really great at walking them through not only how to use the product, but also just how to get established on social media and just act as trusted advisors to small business was just starting out. Uh, but that's a very tip, but that's a typical flow. They would typically hear about us through word of mouth, sign up for product, set up connections to social social networks. Now they need to be successful was that, and that's friction, which we can talk about more. Um, but ultimately I think the moment of delight comes when they realize that okay, was buffer. I can use their product, but I can also get educated about how to actually grow on social media. Speaker 1 00:38:07 Very cool. So with taking that to the, sort of the next step, that activation, what role does activation typically play in improving the scalability of new profitable customer acquisition channels at buffer? Speaker 3 00:38:19 Yeah, so that's, that's huge for us. And, uh, we are the type of product where we have, um, it's the, it's a blessing and a curse, but we need to connect our users to, we need to connect Buffalo product, their product experience, Facebook to Instagram, to Twitter, to LinkedIn, to Pinterest, and all of these, uh, user flows, unfortunately have a lot of friction. So we believe that this is fear and concern and a lot of copy, a lot of small text to read in terms and conditions. And whenever you have, you are asking a customer before you can see anything in product. Okay. Now you first have to take these five steps it's present. It's a huge friction point, obviously. So, um, uh, so that's something that we are very actively thinking about now and exploring ways to make that optional, to set up, uh, connections over time, to put something else in front of user entirely. That's maybe not social media connections, uh, to just unlock that funnel because right now, um, our activation rate is not where we want it to be. And again, it's based because of that friction. Speaker 1 00:39:29 Right. So typically right now they're being asked to connect all the social media. And so an experiment might be pushed. Okay. Yeah. Okay. And so, but, but at least one, but are they encouraged to only do one or are they being, are they basically being encouraged to do all, but at least one, Speaker 3 00:39:47 At least one, and then we continuously nudge them to connect more because the value of the product is in the fact that you can publish to multiple. So that set up takes time. Yeah, Speaker 1 00:39:56 It's interesting too though, because there's also the value in the product is even if you just had one, like, I, I primarily just used it with Twitter and I don't, I don't go as as much volume anymore. So I'm kind of more manually doing, doing the Twitter, but the, um, you know, being able to schedule yeah. A week or two weeks or three weeks of posts to Twitter was super convenient and I didn't need to hook up to a whole bunch, but I think that's one of the keys is, uh, you're different, different customers are going to like a product for different reasons. And, and what, what the aha moment is for one might not be the aha moment for others. And how do you, how do you kind of reconcile and sort of do, do you try to work the averages there, or you try to like segment experiences based on something you uniquely know about these customers? Speaker 3 00:40:47 Gosh, what a great question. Um, what a great question. Um, it's, it's, it's, it's what you said. It's the, um, it's, it's understanding data, it's working the average, the, the, the most common denominator, right? Like what is the most common customer and user would want to set up in this flow? Um, so looking at friction itself and which is the easiest social network to connect to Twitter, for instance. Right. Um, but the other way to think about it is actually to turn the problem on its head and to say, what is actually our imperative and how, how can we help the customer. And so we have this belief that if you're a small business, can you really afford not to have your presence out on all the social media networks? And can you really afford not be continuously communicating with your audience? So if you look at it through that lens, that makes it a little bit more purpose driven and mission driven and you think, okay, all right, are you, you know, small business look, you're so busy, you have so much on your plate, let us help you get there. So, yeah. Speaker 1 00:41:50 Yeah. And just, and just understanding like is, uh, is, is automation the problem or his ideas of what to post in the first place, the problem. And if you don't have the ideas, the automation is not going to matter. And so some somewhat segmenting what's, what's getting them stuck. And then even, even the ideas are a function of understanding why you should be regularly posting and how does that actually benefit your business? And so just, just as you're saying, there's just such a, a, such a kind of wide swath of ways that you can, you can kind of move them toward ultimately, you know, the behavior of what leads someone to being a, a long-term buffer user is when they have a lot of posts and they want to do it across me and, you know, but, but there's, there's a lot between where most of the market is and, and that end state, so yeah. Challenging to connect those dots. Speaker 3 00:42:42 Absolutely. And, uh, Sean, I, um, I may need to check with our finance group, but if we might have an opening on our product teams, if you would like to join, Speaker 1 00:42:54 We had to give it to my, a fast food restaurant that I've been working at notice that I'm leaving, but, uh, Speaker 3 00:43:01 Anything for Speaker 1 00:43:02 A COVID shot these days. Um, but, uh, but no, it's, um, it's, it's such a great company. I really, I love again, that that transparency that, that buffer has, and I can see the attraction, interestingly buffer bought it. When I first heard about buffer when buffer bought a product from, uh, from Kissmetrics years ago, I don't even remember what the product was that they bought, but I bought a product the same week from Kissmetrics. Uh, that was, that that turned into be Qualaroo, which was a business that I built up and ended up selling to a, to a private equity firm. But it was a, uh, Qualaroo essentially was called kiss insights at the time. And, uh, so that was my first kind of discovery of buffer. And then, and then I quickly went in and said, gosh, I can see how that acquisition fits in because they're so transparent about everything, about their business. Um, I, uh, it's, it's a, it's definitely a unique, special company. So congrats on joining that team. And I'm excited to see where, where you end up taking it to the next level. But I know Ethan, you wanted to ask about sort of the retention and engagement and how you can build a habit over time. Somewhat we've covered that. But if there's maybe any more that you can dig in there. Speaker 2 00:44:16 Well, yeah, I think it's, you know, we often talk about how getting people through to that activation moment is so important in building that longterm relationship. And you've described some of the challenges of getting there, but I imagine once you get someone connected with their social media, now, a matter of just Speaker 1 00:44:32 As Sean said, building a habit around that, I'm wondering like how, how, what kind of things are you specifically doing to build that habit and how much focus does your team put on, on that add buffer? Speaker 3 00:44:45 Yes. Um, so, so it's interesting, it's interesting for us being a scheduling, being a tool, that's help you plan preplan and schedule into the future. We, uh, a little bit lucky in having retention kind of built into the value proposition itself, right? Because again, like you, you, you, you, you start out without product, you connect your social networks and ultimately you are pre-planning your posts into the future. And then that becomes the addicting part, right? The, the second, uh, addicting part becomes the, the fact that you can see your analytics across social media platforms, all in one place. And so kind of checking on those analytics, right. Um, what are we doing about that? We have plenty of work to do here, for instance, uh, would love to bring, um, analytics metrics to our mobile native apps, because, you know, we, we absolutely believe that all small businesses are just really trying to get through so much in the day and they want to just quickly check on analytics. Speaker 3 00:45:40 Um, we have recently launched a new feature set around engagement, um, that we think is a very hot habit forming where, um, our, uh, customers able to go to buffer and then see comments that someone posted on Instagram and then on Facebook. And so they're going in and they're checking, okay, what are the comments? And being able to reply to those, uh, real-time from our platform. Um, so these are just some of the examples of how we think about retention through the product lens. Um, my, uh, my view is that in addition to product building retention, retention is definitely everybody's job in the company. And that's where, you know, advocates play a huge, huge part. Finance team plays a huge part, you know, all the little things that we can do to improve or reduce churn, uh, they will help, uh, you know, over time. Um, yeah. Speaker 1 00:46:33 Are you guys doing anything to help people who are primarily using, just say one channel through buffer who like to help them repurpose their content or make it easier to repurpose content say from a Twitter post to a Instagram post, or, or is that outside the scope of what buffer tries to do? Speaker 3 00:46:52 Um, we not, um, I think, I think previously Buffalo has been looking at these types of opportunities, more narrowly. We're trying to step out a little bit and really think a little bit broader about small business issues. And then, you know, when it comes to repurposing content, there's a lot of regulation and a lot of, um, just policies from various social networks we need to be careful about. So, um, so yes, to a degree, but obviously complying was our, um, social media partners policies. Um, but again, I think the, the future for us is really starting to think a much more broader, much more horizontal if we're about adding features. We're trying to think of the ones who would work across all social media platforms, not necessarily for just one. And then, and then again, starting to think about like, what's next for buffer what's, uh, what, you know, how else can we help small businesses and marketing space? Right. So Speaker 1 00:47:44 I wanted to go back to one thing that you said right in the beginning, when you, when you talked about the, the typical path that someone takes and you said most people discover buffer through word of mouth. And, um, I'm curious what role you feel like, uh, freemium has, like having a free version plays in helping to drive that word of mouth. Do you think you would have as much word of mouth if you didn't have a free version? Speaker 3 00:48:09 Uh, I don't think so. I think freemium is huge, uh, for word of mouth and, uh, and free freemium, hopefully ideally was additional some kind of viral loop, right? So Bitly, my bread company had a fantastic viral loop was just having Bitly links everywhere and then having a free URL shortener right on the website, uh, buffer. We, we, we have a little bit of that, but it was all social postmarked by published by buffer. Uh, but we can do more. Um, but the, the key here is, uh, yes, we, we firmly believe that, uh, word of mouth is driven primarily by free happy, satisfied, retained customers. Um, and that's why we obsess about monthly active usage holding up. Speaker 1 00:48:51 Yeah, no, that's my experience as well, that, that, uh, the whole purpose of having a great free version of something is that you create those advocates who bring in cohorts of people, of which there's going to be some really qualified people for the premium product in that cohort. But, uh, having a free product that drives that viral loop can, can make a business a lot bigger. So it's, uh, it's, it could be really important. Ethan, any, any other questions you wanna hit on? We want to make sure we're respectful of your time here, but we have one last question that we always ask before we wrap up. And that's, what do you feel like you understand about growth now that maybe you didn't understand as well before you started at buffer? Speaker 3 00:49:29 You know, every time I joined a new company, I just re I realized that there was a different flavor of growth and, um, which is, which is great and perfect, right? There is, there is no size fits all there, isn't a single formula for every business, right? It really depends on the strategy and what the company is trying to do. Are they trying to go up market and therefore growth might mean, uh, generating more leads for the sales team? Um, Bewdley had an interesting challenge, absolutely gigantic Mao, um, but there's a huge opportunity to monetize that now. Um, buffer has, uh, an opportunity to really define and redefine what, uh, what's next beyond social media perhaps. And that's what growth means to us. So we started to think about broader markets than, uh, social media marketers. So I think, I think that's really the, the key takeaway that, uh, an advice perhaps I would give other product leaders, uh, when you join another company and you are tasked to lead growth, which is becoming more and more of a norm, um, is to take a step back, really think about the strategy, you know, uh, I don't know, don't throw away all your playbooks, but, but really think deeply about this specific business and what it's trying to do, uh, find that North star and then build the rest of the growth model. Speaker 3 00:50:41 And, uh, from there, I think that's key. Speaker 1 00:50:44 Yeah. That's great advice. I definitely, I know when I went from log me in to Dropbox, I was, I was like, Oh, I know exactly how I'm going to drive growth here. The same way I did it at, at log me, I'm going to go and buy a bunch of keywords. And, and we're getting at word of mouth off those people who we acquire. And, but when I looked at the markets, I had go to my PC, who was at log me in, who was spending hundreds of millions of dollars creating market demand in that category. And so of course I could tap into that demand by buying ads on Google. But when I got to Dropbox, there was really no one was searching for something like Dropbox. And so the growth engine for Dropbox ended up looking completely different than log me in. And so fortunately I w I, I quickly realized that and moved in a different direction with things, but it is interesting how you really have to understand the unique, uh, the unique benefits that a company has a unique advantages that a company has and the market conditions and everything else, and then, and then figure out how to, how to maximize growth and impact within those opportunities. Speaker 1 00:51:53 And, uh, even then, it's not necessarily easy, but, um, I think looking at what buffer has done, um, it's, it's super impressive. And I think they're going to continue to do better now that you're on the team. So congrats on joining the team there. And thank you so much for sharing what you are seeing there and in your previous roles. Speaker 3 00:52:11 Oh, thank you so much. I really enjoyed the conversation. This is the types of conversations I, I, I really like and, uh, uh, yes, happy to chat in the future. Um, it was nice to meet you. Speaker 1 00:52:21 Maybe we'll, we'll do a revisit after, after another six or 12 months when, uh, when, when the honeymoon's over and you start to see, Oh man, here's the frustrating parts, but, uh, I'm, I'm really glad to hear that it's going well. And for everyone tuning in, thank you so much for listening. Uh, Ethan, thanks for your help as well. Speaker 0 00:52:41 Great, Maria. Thanks. Thanks. <inaudible> thanks for listening to the breakout growth podcast. Please take a moment to leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform, and while you're at it subscribe. So you never miss a show until next week.

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