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Benjamin: Today we’re going to try something new. This is the first episode of what I'm calling our career day content franchise. Instead of doing a deep dive into a single channel of marketing, we're going to learn about the skills that have been accumulated and the lessons learned from a great marketer throughout the various stops in their career.
Benjamin: So with us today is Will Wong who is a full stack marketer. He is the VP of marketing for Disney streaming services and prior to his current role will has worked as a growth marketer for the likes of Ebay, etsy, twitch, dropbox. He also launched mission street, which is his professional marketing service consultancy. Will's a really bright guy. We're excited to have him here today and will is going to walk us through his career, his meteoric rise and talk about some of the learnings and skills that he's accumulated along the way. So here is our interview with will wong from Disney streaming services. Well, great to have you here, man.
Will: Hey Ben. It's great to be here.
Benjamin: Sitting down in person. Most of the time I record these interviews over the phone. It's great to actually have you live and in the flesh. It's like a real conversation. It is. It is. It's getting coffee with. What's the Jerry Seinfeld show? Comedians and cars were a Ferrari and the president. Obama short of being Jerry Seinfeld. Okay. Let's talk a little bit about your career. I want to start off by why did you get into marketing? I guess there's two.
Will: One actually.I got in because the best and worst part of graduating UC Davis in 2007. Is that right? It was right before the recession. That's the worst. The best part was. It really makes you think about whether or not you want it to take whatever career path you had at the time and at that time I was thinking about going to law school, being a lawyer, and then being in the recession or graduating, coming out of the recession. You quickly kind of take some time. You look at all the lawyers do now and you look around. Do you think, I don't actually know any happy lawyers. Do I actually want to go be a lawyer and that's actually high. Transitioned into marketing.
Benjamin: It's funny, your experience was pretty similar to mine where I graduated a little bit before my senior year of college. I was in Boston and was nine slash 11, so I graduated in June of 2000 and the economy was depressed, not as bad as it was in 2008, but was facing a downturn and it drove me actually to start my career in sales. It was really hard to find a traditional marketing job and that was really. The Internet was in its nascent stages. It was early one. Datto and I faced a lot of the same challenges that you did, so you were facing an economic depression, hard to find a job. You're at UC Davis. What was the first job out of college?
Will: So I did not know anything about business. Everything I know about business marketing. It came from reading Bloomberg Business Week on a treadmill whenever I was at the gym and my first job coming out of school is I didn't do any internships. My whole plan was after graduating to take a year off study for the Lsat, dwell on that, apply to law school, and then right before I was going to take the test, bear stearns goes down, Lehman goes down, all these guys go down and then everything else trickles down from there and I'm thinking about this and I'm like, oh my gosh, I need to go find a job. I go to Google. I look for top jobs are college grads. I find what now I realize it's actually an affiliate site just flips you to different high recruiting job type projects. First job I got was that an enterprise rent a car.
Will: I'm worrying the cheapest suit never worn a suit in my life. Don't know how to tie a tie. One hundred $50 suit from macy's. Mine was from the men's wearhouse. Exactly. I'm cleaning cars. I'm cleaning cigarette butts out of cars. I'm writing them, picking people up and I'm thinking like why am I doing? And no offense to anyone who is in the car rental business or anything like that. It's like a great path, but it was definitely not my path. It was just first place gave me the job. I took it without really spending time to think about is this the path I want to go in? And then a mixture of realizing that I didn't want to go to law school too. You shouldn't work. Just the work. I just quit those things. Took some time to think about it. I look back at what during my childhood, during my experience up until then made me really excited and I remember when I was 10, 12 years old, I built a website.
Will: We had a teacher. This was in the middle of the DOTCOM boom. He made us learn html and I built a geocities site about video games except after the class I kept that thing going so that it got to the point of having, I want to say 500 visits to the home page per day because I did not attract anything else. This is literally through a website can on the page that will just track what was there yesterday, what is there today and without even that, I was marketing in terms of like figuring out content, figuring out how to architect the site, coding site, designing the site, finding ways to get traffic to the site that I've been marketing the whole life and I realized like, Hey, I'm in silicon valley. How do I go find a job there?
Benjamin: It's one of the things that I feel like we talk about millennials as a hot buzzword. We've tried to use it a little bit on the podcast, how to market to millennials. I'm technically an early millennial, 85 baby. I speak millennial, but I'm a couple years too old, but to me the demarcation of millennial is digitally native and I feel like I am a digitally native person. I grew up with at least a computer and the Internet was there. I was using aol dial up modem as a kid, you know, chat rooms and stuff like that, but it was there. So inherently for everyone, let's say my age and younger, most people are doing some sort of marketing because they create either a brand for themselves online where they talk about their interests and they try to get other people to engage with the content they're creating. So it's a skill that more people are learning younger.
Benjamin: I also, in my early career I mentioned I was in sales. The company I worked for had a similar training program to enterprise where you come in, you're the bottom of the barrel, you're washing cars, you're giving people rides. You know? For me, it was literally like business to business, door to door sales, trying to sell phone service to companies that already had phones, trying to get them to switch carriers, but the infrastructure behind that was teaching sales skills and providing a training program so you can move up the ladder and it taught me a lot about how to work with people, taught me a lot about persuasion and overcoming objections so that early stage of my career was absolutely foundational in my ability to communicate as a businessperson and it's something that even now doing this podcast has been beneficial. Tell me about the skills that you learned at enterprise.
Will: This is a little bit mixed with enterprise, but there's a bit if you just kind of realize that everything in life is sales at some point or another, but you kind of stopped calling it sales because no one wants to be sold to and I think I kind of had this mentality early on that skills is this bad thing. I don't want to do sales and I think when I was at enterprise it didn't make be realized. You had to do it. It's just a fact of life. There's 7 billion of us living on this planet for us to get along. There is this whole sales aspect to it.
Benjamin: I think that's a great answer and it was one of the foundational things for me early in my career was learning sales and learning communication skills, getting your point across, getting people to agree with you and buy into you as a valuable skill. Let's talk about your entry into marketing. How did you go from enterprise and to. I mean now you're the VP of marketing at a Disney company. That's a pretty big department. Yeah.
Will: Here's the clincher order. I quit enterprise before I decided to abandon my law school path. I was living on my old childhood bedroom at my mom's house. I've quit my job. I need to go make some money, so I jumped to Craig's list and I found this job being a search quality rated for ask jeeves and this was back in 2007, 2008 as well as in completely. I don't want to say the word irrelevant, but I want to stay relevant. They still have maybe four to five percent of search marketing share. Google was hardly dominant yet. They were still maybe 50 or 60 percent. Today it's probably 90 plus and I go in there and basically asked was doing kind of a little bit of a last Hurrah in terms of, hey, we're going to Redo our search algorithm. We're going to basically mimic a little bit of blood.
Will: Google, Siri and Google has brilliant engineers working on their Algo, but what most people don't know is there's thousands of people overseas manually rating search queries so you have a human component that your engineers can then compare like what their algorithms return and ask for wasn't going to hire a thousand people. They're going to hire 20 people and I fortunately became one of those 20 and going through that process then give telling us what search engines love for, how to evaluate relevance, how to evaluate quality. You basically were a manual component of the other end of a search algorithm and I quickly learned, oh, this is how search engines work. It sounds like you were the hamster in the wheel for a search engine where you're just constantly churning through queries, ranking, whether they're relevant or not. One hundred percent, 100 percent. I wouldn't basically power through, gosh, maybe like a thousand queries a day.
Will: Like they give you those inquiries. They give you 20 pages, evaluate and there are some rubric you score each month or so. Pretty much the perfect thing to do while you're trying to study for the LSAT. I did that for about six months, realized, hey, this is a really interesting thing and this kind of that makes with my childhood, just loving to build websites kind of rekindled my interest into maybe there's something here and again I want to remind folks who weren't in the job hunt and 2008 before the Rose Linkedin, there was a thing called monster.com and there was a thing called craigslist that a lot of people use to find legitimate jobs. Went through it, scour through the San Francisco listing jobs and really just out of sheer luck, landed a job at pat. I prospect, which was and still is one of the leading search marketing agencies, but back in 2008, no one knew where search was.
Will: Barely anyone will tell you how google pain money. My parents didn't know what search was there. Like, what are you doing? Why'd you quit a good paying job to go do the hard say good paying, but something that paid. That's how my parents feel about podcast. We'll see. I hope so. The great thing, and this was kind of incredible thing of hiking, I lucked into marketing is that because no one else search worked. Almost every major company out there outsourced it and because this is the leading agency, they manage a ton of amazing brands and I'm this kid. I'm literally learning how to understand business and talk business from breeding Bloomberg Business Week and I don't know if I had to do this today. I will like walk into a situation like this, but not knowing anything, never using excel in my life. Never even writing a business email in my life. My first three clients that was almost entirely dedicated to supporting running search campaigns was eventbrite when they only had eight employees. They just launched Virgin America right when they launched in the US. The only route they had I think was New York, SF to La, and that was really about it and file maker, which is a service within apple, so I'm just this kid, I don't know how to do things and no one said that these words to me, but they essentially were like, don't worry. No one does. Just go figure it out.
Benjamin: So the lesson there is when you're working in a developing industry or an area that is on sort of an exponential path of growth, nobody knows what the hell they're doing. So you have as good of a shot as anybody else. That's absolutely right. Okay. So you start working for a search agencies, early days of search or working for big brands. What do you learn from that?
Will: I would even just kind of start on some of the hard skills because even now, 12 years or so into my career, there's two skills that just surprisingly had not changed. One on my second week there, we had a guy there, stainless allie merchant, and he took it upon himself on top of his day job to train every new analysts that came in and I remember his first week, he said to us, I'm going to teach you the one thing that's going to make your entire live easy at the office for the rest of your career. It's called a pivot table. Essentially walked us through it and I kid you not. I'd probably say less than 10 percent of people at offices today even know how to use one and the people that do get access to the data quicker. I understand how to process data quicker, understand, derive insights from it and naturally if you want, get a little more events.
Will: If you understand how to pivot table works, you understand how seafood works and now you can go directly into databases directly into systems, understand how things were working and regardless of all the soft skills like that is the one hard skill that I've picked up and I still do today. I don't care what level I'm at, I don't care where my time needs to go. Sometimes it gets to an answer. If you just know how to query or code, you could just go directly to listen, get your answer in a second rather than starting a email chain that takes two days to cascade down to an answer.
Benjamin: Yeah. At the end of every podcast so far, mostly the ones where we've talked to subject matter experts, I always ask people what advice do they have for younger marketers and very often it is a sort of an emotional response for people. Have do something you love or try new things and all very good and valuable important perspectives. Probably the answer that I would have is try new things. Do what you love, build skills, and just learn what your story is so you could tell it to other people. Recently somebody said, go learn sequel if you're a marketer, go get access to the data and that hard skill is really important. So you learned fundamentally how to get access to data. Somebody taught you about pivot tables. Why'd you move on from that role and where'd you go?
Will: What I really quickly realized this may still be true today is because you know the market was nascent, it was growing really, really fast and if you're in the management of this agency or any agency at the time, the easy money was taking people who have no clue what this is and there was a lot of it and what I mean, this is any form of digital marketing and this was pretty much pre-social facebook when I started, had not launched an advertising system yet. Yeah, it was. My space was the dominant player at the time. It was heavy display, heavy search, and at the time have you kind of go back and look at the old press clippings, the TV advertising, print advertising. People still thought digital is this cute little side project for a lot of agency business, so if you're heading up one of the search businesses at this time, there's a heck of a lot more business by going after companies who just are starting out because they have no baseline.
Will: Whatever you give them is gonna be better than what they were doing before and I think as someone early in their career, I just decided to get out of the legal law school route. I realized like, Oh, we're just basically training folks, so every year I'm going to get three or four new clients, but I'm going to be redoing the same work. I realized that very quickly. The company is a great. I love to everyone and love and working with everyone there, but in terms of like what I could learn and at the time I was biasing like how can I learn the quickest? I thought, okay, it's time to actually go in house. One of these companies, because the other thing with work in the agency is you don't actually control anything. You can only influence, so we could come out with great recommendations for Seo, sem, landing page optimization, but you don't own the business results yet.
Will: You still have to convince the person that does and at that time you had to remember like no one knew how to do this stuff. There was no core, there was no fake cues. Nothing existed and I want it to be on the side that you can actually go. If you knew something, you can insight, you have complete control to go implement it. You want an ownership. Do you want her to move in house where Jolyn [inaudible] Bay, which is where we met, right? And it was a very lucky time of getting married to Ebay because in Silicon Valley people have a short memory. Right now. The hot company is all your Uber's and Airbnb. Before that, Google, facebook, but people forget. Before that it was Ebay, Yahoo, intuit, Oracle, and I joke with people that today say they only want to hire from Google's and facebook's. I asked him like, what do you think these people were working before? Those companies start hiring Ebay, yahoo into it, and I got a really, really awesome opportunity to work. A lot of amazing, amazing people I know now, including yourself that I've gotten in touch with.
Benjamin: The ebay alumni network is basically the foundation of this podcast for the people that have been listening regularly. Lot of guests who I ran into at Ebay. What was interesting about the Ebay culture, to me, it was very consultant heavy. It was a lot of people that were ex Mbas that had consulting backgrounds that were. I felt like it was just chocked full of directors who were brilliant, who now are venture capitalists, Ceos, vps of various large publicly traded companies, but really, really smart people and to me it was the beginning of the trend where people were going to college, going to get an Mba, and then they go into finance and with the Ebay, Yahoo Generation, those really top talent, smart people were starting to go into technology on the business side, not into moving money around. So great people at Ebay. Tell me, what were you working on while you were there?
Will: So when I came in, I was brought on to work on this product. It was essentially called Triton, but the long story short was that it was the Marin software Kenshoo before it existed.
Benjamin: Before you go on,
Will: just for the people who aren't familiar with performance marketing, you say Marin Software Kenshoo. Tell everybody what that means. Yes. So what that means is today there's really only four major digital marketing channels. It search marketing, it's advertising on Google, on Yahoo there is social media marketing, which is marketing on facebook, twitter, snapchat, you name it, display ads you see on the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and as affiliate marketing, like sign up for this, gets some bonus back. We're going to throw out a fifth one, which is audio advertising or audio advertising growing very, very fast. And for an organization like Ebay, which was a top five digital spender at the time, they had dedicated teams. Each one of these antique really built like a best in class platform to handle their search marketing. So out of those five, this was the group to handle search. The platform was so strong that some of the leaders, they're thought, huh, maybe we can like licensed white label and sell this service to other vendors. Very much like how aws started. It started as an internal link for Amazon great platform. Why don't we try to sell it, and it was very much a similar path, but for their search marketing technology.
Benjamin: Just to recap for people that aren't super familiar with digital marketing, Ebay was best in class at using google search engine to drive traffic to its website and the triton platform was not only built to drive traffic but to understand the revenue coming from a click basically in real time. So they licensed that platform to other people and so when we talk about Triton, it is an Ebay owned service that Ebay Trot was considering spinning out to license to other platforms and now there are companies like Kenshoo and Marin software that do essentially that same thing. So you're working at Ebay on the Triton team. What was the role?
Will: It was a bit of a hybrid is actually very similar to my experience at the agency. At the agency I was at. Essentially people did one of two roles. You're either at the analysts that actually ran the campaigns, manage the campaigns, decided what ads you wanted to buy, how much to bid on them, how much the industry portfolio into it, or you're an account manager, work with the client who's giving you money or it's authorizing you run these campaigns and maintain that relationship. When I went to either basically did the hyper role, we were working with a number of partners. I don't know if I can share them, but they're basically a number of fortune 100 companies around the barrier with other Ebay alumni that wanted to try us out and if you kind of go back to what I said earlier, like this is only a year after the agency.
Will: We're still in the period where everyone was still shifting more and more money into digital advertising. That before all that money went to TV, print magazines, radio, things like that. That if you're brand new, go an agency, but some of the folks who actually got started but didn't have a technology background like okay, we get it, we're running these programs, we know how to run ads on Google, we know how to run ads on the New York Times, but how do we take this data and actually feed that back into how we invest across channels and across campaigns. That was essentially the tools that Ebay had built, so was really kind of helping the advertising program or the advertising client that was ready to go next level, but did not have the technology to go do it. So my role is hybrid, help them run the campaigns but also manage the account because this was a pilot team at the time. So you had to wear all the hats.
Benjamin: So that's what you were doing when we worked together at Ebay? Yes. Who Knew? And you already paid for how long? A little bit. Under two years. Did you stay in that role the whole time?
Will: No. So for a lot of big companies, things changed regularly. So while I was there, I was on the pilot team for a little bit, spent some time on the search marketing team, specifically for the US market, so this is doing google ads, Yahoo ads, and also being ads, which at the time was pretty bad. And then before I left, this was right around when mobile and social started becoming a thing. Facebook started to somewhere ad space. I think the iphone had just opened up to third party apps. I think a lot of people say forget that the first two years of the iphone there was no app store.
Benjamin: It was whatever apple gave you, right? Two thousand eight was the launch of the APP store. So right around that time people started developing third party apps and Ebay was one of the early adopters of the APP store.
Will: Yeah. And at that time, and this is part of the reason I left, was I was very hungry to go try new things. My mindset at the time was okay, which is obviously a thing now, but I got into search at a time when the newspaper print, tv ad guys were just making fun of search and I didn't want to be that guy. When social starting to become a thing, when mobile started to become a thing and the challenge for a very big company, large budget spend. If you're a brand new channel, it's not worth investing in it until there's enough reach because it doesn't actually affect your growth, but I wanted to learn. That's kind of the theme here is like every time I left I left because I wanted to learn more and there was huge opportunity to go to a number of startups who were just raising a ton of funding at the time to go learn and apply what I've learned from search and try to pick up new skill like social or mobile
Benjamin: learning is obviously important and hopefully the driver for most people to make career changes. I'm sure money factors into that a fair amount. For me, a lot of the changes on the reason why I left Ebay was working at a big company. You are so specialized, right? I was doing partnerships and for a little while I was doing content and Seo, but I wanted to be a little bit more creative and entrepreneurial, so I started working on a side project myself that I eventually went and did full time, but the idea was I wanted to better understand the foundation of how companies and products get built so I could not be a business development person for my entire life, but be more of. I'm using air quotes, a full stack marketer. So you left Ebay to learn new skills were agenda.
Will: I went to a company, a couple of them spot who since then has been acquired by jp Morgan Chase. Another story for a different time. Yeah, but this was the time when daily deals became very big flash sales flash sales guilt became a thing. Travelzoo was always a thing, but age has got more popular. Groupon was the big one group on. Yeah, and this was the time when I think Google offered something like $6,000,000,000 by groupon and groupon famously turned down. It's like snapchat
Benjamin: turning down the offer to get acquired by facebook.
Will: Exactly, and they were pretty much 100 of them at the time. The Work Group on Columbia's going around, there's no better way to describe. We were a group online, but it was a very interesting time because most of these businesses grew off social advertising and at the time that was almost exclusively advertising on facebook because it was the first time you could really pinpoint level target a region and target demographic and also all of this group buying coupon site things. All of their coupons they sold are very, very specific to market. So you had two things happening. One, a product that was built for specific markets and to a brand new advertising channel for a way to reach everyone in the US and you can target by exact demographic, so you're learning social advertising
Benjamin: and you're working in a place that focuses on local marketing, but at a national level, so they have to market each individual city separately. There is no national advertising campaign.
Will: Yep. What was the role? The roles that go in as a director of marketing, so I came in and ran produce all of their acquisition marketing channels that were digital. They have a lot of partnerships. They had a lot of kind of local vendor marketing type deals that I was on a part of, but if it was an online ed, that was my world.
Benjamin: Okay. So tell me a little bit about what you learned. This is your first foray into running an entire marketing channel. What were the big lessons that you got from that experience
Will: in at the time? Again, group bottoms, huge living socials, number two, and then there was about 98 of us, many, many steps here and trying to chase folks. And you know, the term group on clone isn't disingenuous because literally everyone will look at how group onto the website, how they do their advertising, how they do their copy, and just literally copy it assuming that someone on the other side thought about it and the perspective I took his I that they have not thought about it. Let's not copy their copy and what I need copy me and their ad copy. Let's not copy their calls to action. This is not a copy of their creative. Let's actually think what users want and market to the user's market. To the market. Yes, market to the market and what it turns out, as you know, we got comps for what groupon and living social cpas were where the conversion rates and what's fascinating is when we diverged from following how they were marketing and did it our own path. Our CPAS were way better in hindsight.
Benjamin: Yeah. So paying attention to your audience, understanding what their needs are as opposed to copying what are again using air quotes, best practices,
Will: and a good example. And anyone who's doing marketing now, this is kind of best practices you learn on day one as a marketer, but back in 2011, this was not a well understood concept back then. The way groupon sign people up is be finding with the net somehow you go to a very generic landing page where you enter their email to get access to deals from 40 to 90 percent off and it's just very generic type page and then you put in your information and you get to the deals and you buy whatever you want. A blind spot. We had a very, very specific narrow set of deals. It was either fine dining, casual dining spas, salons or fitness type deals, and because in digital you can target people looking for a specific thing or people who have a high affinity for a specific category.
Will: We're thinking, why don't we just have different landing pages? This, why don't we have them? If it's a fitness app, fitness landing page that talks about fit and when you sign up as should take you immediately to the fitness deals and you plan to the categories. As soon as we applied this versus our clone group online pay the rate that people who see the page and actually sign up went up by 50 percent and that naturally brings our cost to acquire a customer down by 50 percent and that was like the real instance for, you know, for me, like I had a hypothesis which was just because someone's the leader doesn't mean they're doing everything right and when you actually challenged some of the core tenants of what they're doing to try test yourself and approved true. It was like that first validating moment where it was, oh, you do know something. You could generally be thoughtful about a problem. Address it in, just have a very clear thesis. Have the very clear experiment design. If it works, great. Roll it up. It doesn't work. Great. Go back to the drawing board and it was like the first time I actually had like a moment where it was, I didn't run something because I copied it. It's because we created this on our own.
Benjamin: I think that there's this trend for people to follow best practices and just assume that you could replicate a template as opposed to learning what works for your specific business and I've said this multiple times on this podcast. Marketing is both an art and a science. You need to be creative and think about how to communicate a point, but you also need to be able to test whether it works and that's where this creative and the data component comes in and that's what makes a great marketer. So talk to me bloom spot. You're starting to understand how to do marketing and putting together advertising and landing page experience to bring down your cost per acquisition. I know the answer to this question which is why did you leave bloom spot? That company got acquired by a big bank and the profile of the people that were working there and what was being asked of you changed pretty dramatically.
Will: Absolutely. That chase had essentially bought the company because at the time a lot of banks are doing this now. You see it too is they want to build better. Yeah. Products for small business owners because for a lot of banks that's kind of their number one customer, so they saw this daily deal site also kind of at the time where the industry was starting to consolidate and as any new industries, as you've seen crypto in any other space, you always start with 100 if not thousands of competitors and overtime as the market matures always boils down to maybe two or three folks. This is that time for the daily deal space and I think chase saw an opportunity I needed to acquire the company, really forced technology to kind of build the backbone of chase offers. So for us not on the technology side, there was definitely an opportunity state, but I always optimize for learning,
Benjamin: but that wasn't a learning opportunity. I know four or five people that were at bloom spot that we're at chase and we're like, hey, it's going to be great. I'm going to be there for a little while for your announced. The money is nice. I should stay. And then three to six months later they were like, I don't want to work at a big slow moving bank. I'm sure the people that chase are great, but it was just a different profile of what was required of them. And so they all bounced to somewhere else basically before their earn out was realized. So where'd you go after blimps spot?
Will: I went to rumble games. Games was a prelaunch. Mobile Gaming Company really wanted to learn mobile, but essentially it wasn't there for too long because in about the nine months I was there, we didn't get to launch. So there wasn't a lot to market. So I started looking elsewhere pretty quickly. And that's the one thing I would throw out there is when you're really interested in startups, you have to prepare for startups the shelf life to be anywhere from three months to 30 years.
Benjamin: And it depends how early the startup is, the earlier stage, the more likely you are to get equity, the more likely you are to have a leadership position, the more likely you are to be looking for a new job quickly. Absolutely right. So risk reward profile and after doing your early stage startup, where'd you head?
Will: After my stint in early stage startups and went to dropbox and a couple of reasons. There was one my career path up to that point was learning the ropes and an agency got a taste of how digital marketing looks at one of the most scaled best run companies at Ebay and then spent two stints at very early stage startups when in social and mobile and virtually both were misses. I looked at it like, why have two strikes? I can't go for a third, so I need to go to a later stage, a little bit more established company. And I really only had one criteria which is look for a scaled product that doesn't do marketing. And the great thing about Silicon Valley is most of our scale product here don't really invest in marketing until after year five. So at the time I landed offers from twitter, lender offers from dropbox line offers from a few other folks thought long and hard about and ended up at dropbox.
Benjamin: I saw a tweet from you talking about twillio when they went public talking about what your equity would have been worth had you stayed in the company and we all have our ones that got away or what could have been in dropbox is publicly traded and doing great, but I got a kick out of that. You know, looking back at that stage of your career.
Will: Yeah. You know, looking at the early stage beside every time I went to one of these early stage companies, I basically rolled the dice, slice one for group spot one for rumble. If I look back at the competing offers, a happy for accepted those two out of five became at the company. Twillio being one of them.
Benjamin: He ended up at dropbox and then they did very well. So tell me about what your role was at dropbox.
Will: Yes. When I joined dropbox, this is right when they made the switch from being a pure consumer play, starting to invest more in their business products for small businesses and enterprises alike and their growth model up until that point was very well documented viral refer a friend model as and how products grow for businesses and this was the impetus for why they really started investing in marketing and I really joined us our first digital marketer and it was actually kind of a great opportunity if you look at where I was at this point was I saw how it was done at the scale level at Ebay. I'm just saying I was social work through blue spot. I understood it how mobile were fewer rumble and this was like a real shot that go tie it all together for a product that you know, hurts and it was kind of a real test of, okay, did I really learn anything these past four years? Let me see if I can apply all this to dropbox.
Benjamin: So talk to me a little bit about the strategy at dropbox. Where your at the company at a point where they are starting to think about monetization, they're going from B to B to b to c, how are you finding users, how are you evaluating whether they are going to be Roi positive
Will: and what's the channel mix? Even when we first started the company only new explosive growth like classic Silicon Valley hockey stick growth story and I think the expectations were sky high for the business side as well. Like, Hey, we're going to develop this into a business product. We're going to see the same chart except for users. It's going to say revenue. And I think a lot of us know that that's not how things work and I kind of went into there with the mentality of, okay, we're going to have to play some small ball. We're going to have to test a lot of channels, try a lot of things, figure out a lot of messaging, figured out a lot of different offerings and see how you really kind of build acquisition mix. That was kind of going against expectation of everything's going to work and so I think a little bit more to your question, it was much more about how do we incrementally built this up and to do that it starts with like putting your head in the customer's mind and even though this was b, I think about this as more direct to customer than it is b to b or b to c and at the same time if you're making a purchase on behalf of your team, on behalf of your company, you're still making the same decision points up.
Will: What problem am I solving? Does it solve that problem, the cost of solving this problem? Is it worth it? And that's really kind of what it really informed our entire acquisition program. Good. Tell me a little bit about the channel mix that you applied. So nationally. I think at this time we had the luxury of just being a very well funded company. Most startups and especially in the early stage companies I was with before, is you basically start with one thing at a time. If it works, put it in the win column and keep trying other things and keep moving things into the win column. If it doesn't work, move on. We had the luxury of just trying everything on day one. No budget aside, yes, try it and then kind of move things over to the last column. They don't work and what it kind of just turned out is that it was still just the classic channels. The channels that work for us and most were search and Seo at the time, social at a lot of promise for the consumer side, but even today and then it still wasn't a channel to get small businesses to sign up.
Benjamin: There's an interesting trend of what people say about the various channels. When I talked to them on this podcast, which let's take ecommerce, for example, people that are in search, whether it be doing an Amazon search for a product or google search, they're doing research. They're in buy mode. They're doing their research or they're ready to purchase, and people that are on social are browsing. So the products that work in that browse mindset are ones that are impulse purchases or ones that require somebody to have education before they know that they need them. And I think that applies, you know, in this case to a b to c model where there's plenty of people that are out there looking for online storage space. Maybe they're consumers, maybe their enterprise customers, but they all go to the same channel and sure there might be people that are interested in learning about the products on social, but the likelihood of them converting is much smaller.
Will: Absolutely. The other thing too is some folks out there might be thinking, I'm sure this was me at some point, like, well why don't you just run linkedin ads and wanting to use facebook to target small business owners. Things like that. We thought about all that and the thing is dropbox at the time when I started had already gotten to $200, million free registered user. So I think now when they went public a couple months back was at 500 million. Yes, we can definitely get signups or free trial starts or direct purchases of our product through linkedin or facebook, but if you look at how many of those signups are versus organic, barely a dent and other water. So when I say, you know, some of these channels didn't work. It's not that we weren't able to get ups. It's really two components. It's one can you get signups and two is it at the scale that it's actually impactful for the business and that's actually how our team pretty much evolved into focusing on the right things.
Will: We got search work pretty well and what actually turned out being where we just spent our time was we should not spend it in social advertising, linkedin advertising, display, things like that. We just Kinda took a step back, took a look at what we're working with and we thought, hey, why are we looking at all these external third party channels when we have $200, million registered users already using our free product? Why don't we spend our time getting them to upgrade to the business? And we essentially took digital marketing principles and focused on our internal users and getting them to upgrade. So when evaluating your marketing mix is really kind of three components to take into it. One, is it gonna Scale? Two, is Roi cost effective for you? And three, is it impactful to your overall business?
Benjamin: Yeah, that's really smart. So you're at dropbox, you're running digital media. I'm sure the team is growing around you. How long were you there?
Will: I was there for about two years.
Benjamin: And you were the first marketing hire when you left the company. How big was the team?
Will: Right joined. I think there's only about 400 other people. Three marketers by the time I left there was about 1500 people. We went from one office to about five international offices and 100 people in the marketing organization all in two years. So you know, for some companies to use in a short period of time at dropbox at that part of the growth phase. The great thing about it was I wanna say it was five years experience jammed into two.
Benjamin: It's a fast moving company. Obviously exponential growth.
Will: You were leading a team when you left, or were you still an individual contributor? I was leading a team, so I started as an ic individual contributor to build that and prove out the program. I want to say when we went in, it wasn't clear if the company needed to do digital because the history was that the company grew entirely off virality, so there's not a question of do we need to do all the digital. Marketing's everyone else's there, so naturally it worked and we grow a team. Okay, so tell me about why you left. This was probably the first time made decision that wasn't about work at this point by just turned 30. I've been living in the bear my entire life. I'm born and raised in Oakland, went to school about our north at Davis and spent seven years working in silicon valley and I love the bay area.
Will: Probably gonna live here. Probably going to raise my family here, but I realized if I didn't move and live somewhere else then it was never going to happen. So I was taking a look around. The program's doing great. We've hired a team, everyone's maintaining the programs and because we were able to invest so early, like the first two, three of the program, year one program triple your to adult, we got to the point where you know, our growth is going to and what I mean growth, I mean specific to how much we're going to grow our budget, our reach from a digital perspective started finding out that point just because we've basically turned every rock and I thought like, Hey, it seems in a good place. I love building. I'm not the person that hangs out and maintain something that already works. And I started just make a life decision and moved to New York and that's where I've been for the past three years.
Will: Three years. Wow. Insane. So your apartment got much smaller. You probably paid more per square footage, but the same rent that you'd be paying in San Francisco because both cities have astronomic real estate prices. It's insane. Tell me about the transition to New York and what was the job market like over there? So the transition has been great. I mean, I think the number one thing I've kind of come to appreciate is again, love the people in San Francisco in Silicon Valley that I think here it's really only one main industry that dominates in that tech and when you're in New York, the industries a dominate there is it's going to be finance, media, fashion, medical related things and tech is pretty new. Also, biotech is still a major component of silicon valley. Yes. People sort of forget that it's here, but you're completely right. Anyway, go on. There's a variety of different industries and this is right and it just caused just the people you meet and the people you interact with on a day to day, whether it's at the office, at a bar, just different perspectives and I think what I realized in a little bit of this is hindsight.
Will: I was just hungry for a diverse set of perspectives grant and we're still in major metropolitan areas. So you didn't exactly move the Laos exactly. Went to New York City and I'm fully aware of that, but it was a good mix. I was looking for a good change of pace and environment. So where did you land after making the move? So when I went up there, the startup industry is still very new and then I think the biggest difference I'd say between New York and San Francisco is in San Francisco. Most startups here, their core technology companies, I think like a facebook thinking, Uber and Airbnb, that's their platforms and you're most of the startups, they are really technology enabled as in if you're a casper mattress company that you do your sales direct to consumer, you do it digitally and the company I went to, it was this place called ask for health.
Will: We were one of the leading obamacare based companies were launched and now you know with. I think I know the reason why you left the company, but the different agenda by the administration. That's not where the company's focused anymore, but I went over there to lead growth marketing. A big thing with what obamacare enabled. If you take the politics aside, it was the first time insurance companies were incentivized and encouraged to do direct to consumer marketing and market to and sell their insurance plans to people who need insurance because part of that, the majority of insurance people get in America is through their employer and this is the first time individuals had a set of rules in place that they're centrally consumer protections that make it more or less like a trustworthy way of buying insurance directly from the insurer. So whether it's regulation or deregulation, I'm not sure exactly the politics behind it, but the insurance company is incented to go direct to consumer.
Will: Oscar health is trying to take advantage of that trend and hires you as a digital marketer? Yes. Okay, and you're running the marketing team at that point? Yeah, it was running the growth marketing team in the job was really kind of the same as what I've been doing my entire career, which is part of the reason why I took it. The way I was thinking at the time was my job's kind of the same no matter where I go. As long as you have empathy for understanding what customers and users want and thoughtfulness with taking the principles of what worked and applying it and adapting a new program to it, the job is essentially the same. And the reason I joined Oscar is really, really because the way I think about it, you know, my role as a growth marketer is to get as many users on your product as possible.
Will: Now when I kind of think about it and look at the past companies I worked with, I'll just use dropbox for example, like I'm not using them for other reasons other than as an example. Let's say we get to massive scale. Let's say we get every single person on planet with an Internet connection. You use dropbox. You have to look back and think about what did I do for the world? Great. They could back up photos, great. There's a quick, easy way to access things, but what kind of value did I add? Look at host podcast will know exactly. But yeah, so the thing that Obama care, regardless of politics, and I'm generally not as political about this, but the mission is worthwhile and the mission of obamacare and obamacare based companies was that in the US at the time, something like 20 or 30 percent of Americans are uninsured.
Will: That's generally not a problem until you need insurance, which is why the number one reason for bankruptcy and America is healthcare costs because if you don't have health insurance, you don't have the prenegotiated rates, x, y, and Z. This, that, and the way I thought about it was let's say we figure out how this health insurance market works and if I do a great job as a growth marketer, you would have helped a sizable chunk of Americans get access to the healthcare system that otherwise would not have access. And it took a long thought about that and said, okay, my job's the same, but if we're successful, what would that mean about your work? The funny thing that occurs to is in your
Benjamin: twenties and even into your early thirties, you're focused on scale accumulation, right? You went from digital advertising, local, social, mobile. You starting to put all those things together. You move up, you're starting to managing a team. Your focus is very much about establishing your career and then you hit an inflection point where you've had a great job and you have a good reputation. You've worked at a bunch of successful companies at this point, mostly with dropbox, a very successful in Ebay as well, and all of a sudden the thing that is exciting to you is doing the same thing that you've learned and doing it in a place where you're helping people and so there's a sense of altruism about the job that you took and the other thing that factors into it as where's your life going to go? You're not just chasing the job, but you're thinking about how your career fits into your whole life and I think that I followed a similar career path where the decisions I made in my career were less about what is just the next job or what is the skill. Once I had acquired a core set of skills, the decisions I've made in my career where a little bit more about what's going to make me the happiest, where can I contribute in a place that I care about and it becomes less about dollars and cents and titles. Obviously that stuff is still very important, but it becomes table stakes, not the core decision making principal.
Will: Yeah, absolutely.
Benjamin: So you were at Oscar health. Obamacare is sort of the focus of it. There's fluctuations and how the regulation or deregulation happens. Eventually you move on from that company. What'd you learn from the experience?
Will: Similar to what you mentioned, it's when you're early in your career, it's skill accumulation and making sure that you have a platform to test those skills to the blue side example, like, yeah, buy pots assists you try. You learn something. At this point in my career, I have a team now and managing teams and I learned is it's not about skill accumulation. It's how do you enable your team to accumulate skills and how you enable your team to accomplish things and you're purely there to just shield. The hardest thing about marketing is that out of all organizations or teams within the business, it's the single organization that every other or understands. I sat down in a technical meeting with our engineers. I would not have a clue what they're talking about. You take it the same engineer and throw them in a marketing meeting. They might not know what the best tactics are, but they'll fundamentally understand what everyone's talking about and the challenge of that is as you head up marketing teams, organizations, because everyone understands it. Sometimes it turns into people equating understanding of knowing how to do it and you're just basically constant bombardment with ideas, hairstyles and stuff with wanting to go try this. I saw this online. Why don't you go try it? And I think at this point in my biggest learning, and this isn't a specific to Oscar thing, it's just specific. I think to any company thing,
Benjamin: it's a middle career, middle management type thing. You're a, you're a shit storm shield some level exactly right,
Will: and all of the ideas come from a good intention, but you only have so much family and it's really pure and middle management type things which has helped build credibility and trust with the team and allow the team to do their thing and try to keep as many distractions away from the team. Okay, so you moved on to Oscar health. Where did you land at that point? I'd been in New York for a year and a half. I had already met most of the startups there and the interesting thing is being one of the few Silicon Valley folks, which we look at today, there's actually a lot of Silicon Valley folks, is that there's a lot of folks looking for advice and I was helping folks for free generally at most, no more than a coffee and a Bagel and I actually decided to start my own consulting group called the mission street.
Will: It's actually named after the street here in San Francisco. My mom is actually run a store there for 20 years. That plus the double meaning of mission and what that's for, it sounded good to me and it kind of rolls off the tongue, so that's why I of that name. It was really a consultancy for a trend that's happening for a lot of the New York startups, which is taking an old industry and going direct to consumer and when that is the model, what happens is when you go direct to consumer, you have to do direct to consumer marketing. You're no longer depending on retail stores to do our marketing sales, you know longer depending on some marketplace to handle our sales. You have to go handle it. And because at this point, digital marketing and only been around for eight, nine years or so in its current form, all of a sudden there was this huge demand for digital marketing talent with a very, very thin pool of.
Will: People have actually gone through cycles. I had at the time and I thought, hey, this is a great opportunity to build a consulting agents and as the fact that took. So you moved from in house back to being a service provider who are. Some of the companies that you worked with, so I got really, really lucky and got with some amazing companies, so number one, fortunately I was able to continue working with Oscar. I told them I was going to leave and they immediately offered me a opportunity to work as an advisor. That's called the no, no, don't go yes. It's a great start today, one, and aside from that, it's just through connections, through referrals. As I started picking up this business guy to work with companies like Zoc doc at the twitch trial spark, which is a great like sequoia backed company and a few others.
Will: Great and are you are essentially running the digital growth playbook that you'd been running at your early stage startup? The same playbook and what I mean played. Look what I noticed in some consultants out there. It's some folks playbooks are tactics like we're gonna come in and apply this search marketing model, this facebook marketing model, this influencer model. My approach is more and coming in to apply certain principles and what tactics has evolved to is going to be determined based on your business, your customer, and these principles I've learned over the years. Give us the two minute version of the playbook or the tactics that you're talking about. So what's interesting is every company I've talked to, they want to jump directly into tactics which are, how do I do influencer? What Asher I run on facebook, should I run search and I always pull people back to quote unquote the basic one. What is your Ltv or the assumptions that your Ltv do any of those passed the smell test? Someone tells you to Ltv is x, Y, Z, and you assume that these customers are going to be around for 20 years and the company is only two years old.
Benjamin: That doesn't pass the smell test. We have a $50 LTV and we want to advertise on facebook. It's like, yeah, your cost per acquisition might be more than 50 bucks. Exactly. Yeah.
Will: So one is to figure out the economics to is the figure out if the backend systems, and this is your analytics or tracking or logging and I don't mean things like have google analytics installed, it means you have a payment system that that's how we make money. Whether or not you're selling ads year selling, affiliate type deals, you're making direct sales. Does that talk to the database where you log your user information? Does that talk to the database where you log your marketing information and theoretically if you have all three, you really don't need a thing like Google analytics where you don't need a thing, a business intelligence tool and that's not going to be great for your sponsorship. Start with the internal, are you logging everything and then get to the physical resurrection? Because if principle one is, do you know your LTV is? Do you know your cac to you know what your willingness to pay all that stuff is? Do you actually have the systems in place to apply what you think your business should be to the teams who are running the job?
Benjamin: For those of you who are early on in the marketing, LTV is lifetime value of a customer and see a c is customer acquisition cost. So what we're talking about is do you understand how much you have to pay for a customer and to understand how valuable that person is and you have the data to not only understand where they're coming from, are they interacting, are they becoming a customer and how much that customer is worth. So you were consulting for how long?
Will: So my consultancy is still up. I've been doing for about a year and a half and basically the what happened is he knocked on the door, they pitched me a role that was essentially exactly what my consultancy was for, which was you're either a startup or you're this big company where most of your revenue came from brick and mortar or some other channel and you quickly need to go digital. Now we need digital marketers for that. And I got called at the time when Disney streaming services was a new group within the broader Org, responsible for all of their streaming players, including espn plus a new Disney streaming service that's going to launch third netflix competitor. Yes. Or netflix and Federer. I know it's confusing that we call it Disney streaming service. And when the team is Disney streaming service,
Benjamin: the background behind Disney streaming services is. That's Bamtech, which used to be the major league baseball streaming services that were spun out as its own company. And then acquired by Disney.
Will: Correct. So we are a brand new organization within all dizzy. So you know, Disney has their media groups, which is ESPN, ABC, they have parks, they have stores, they have the studios, things like marvel, Lucas films, Pixar. And they created a brand new group just for us. It's the direct consumer group. And within that where the streaming team that's behind that. And they created the streaming team basically through acquisitions. So they bought this company called media, which used to be part of major league baseball to incorporate the technology and some of the towns they had there. But the same time started bringing in other digital folks, including people from Amazon and myself and others to help kind of run this group.
Benjamin: Okay. So tell me about your role.
Will: My role is essentially kind of helping build a digital growth program that aligns with a subscription service. Disney does great marketing. You see it in all their advertising. You see it in all their program, all their brands. One of the world's biggest brands. Exactly. But this is the first time they're really going direct to consumer and they're opening the pocket books actually saw on my news app before I came in here that the board just approved the deal to buy a Fox and all of Fox's assets for 70 odd billion dollars. Like the company is very, very serious behind backing this play. So they bought Fox, yes. Fox and all their assets, which includes 20th century Fox. It includes Sky Sports, which is essentially the espn of Europe star, essentially the espn of India. And I think at this closer, I forget the exact numbers. This would give Disney majority Sharon Hulu, which is the relevant part of the streaming side. In addition to all the content rights, things like Spiderman, x men, dead pool, things like that, that all belong to the Fox side, even though they are Disney marvel products.
Benjamin: Interesting. Okay. So what do you actually marketing direct to consumer? If there's no Disney streaming APP right now?
Will: So the first part we're working on is espn plus essentially espns foray into a direct consumer product before this. Espn makes all their money off the cable networks. You pay for cable 50 to 100 bucks a month, some set number of that goes to espn. That's the entire business model. And right now as the industry is cord cutting, just canceling their cable deals and just buying directly. This is really kind of ESPN, its first product into selling a product directly to customers and that's where marketing comes in, right? You're no longer waiting for a check that comes in from the cable companies. You now have to run your own marketing to acquire customers to use this product. And my side is lifecycle, which is once someone's signed up, how do you keep them around? The way I think about it is if you expect your customers to be around for 10 years, that's 120 months. The acquisition awareness, all of the traditional media advertising type things you would do that gets people to month one, but what are you going to do between month two and one slash 20, and the way I really think about my team is like what are the things you can run? Whereas the messaging you can run to get more people from month to two month three, three to four, four to five and downward and downward.
Benjamin: It's interesting. I feel like most people think of marketing as a customer acquisition effort and to me marketing is a establishing a brand, doing customer acquisition and customer retention and now it sounds like based on what you're saying, that you're more focused on retention than acquisition, which seems to be the primary background of your experience.
Will: Yeah. This is actually my first hybrid role. A little bit of it as learning because I have a background or attention, but I've mostly focused on acquisition, so that's learning, but to still applying my management experience. Again, build the right team and allow them to do the right things to actually get these customers from months one, two, three, four, five, etc. Right. Well, let me say thank you foR being on the show and for helping us launch our first career day and our new content franchise.
Benjamin: Thank you, ben. This Was fun. Yeah, it was good time. Okay, well that wraps up this episode of the MarTech podcast. Thanks. To will long from disney streaming services and mission street consulting for joining us. If you'd like to learn more about will, you can visit his consulting firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can click on the link in our show notes. a special thanks to searchmetrics for sponsoring this podcast. If you're looking to grow your online presence, go to searchmetrics.com to request a free tour of their platform. If you'd like to review the highlights of this conversation, read the entire transcript or find the links that we've mentioned in our conversation. you can find them on our website, which is MarTechh pod.com, or by clicking in the links in our show notes. If you're a subscriber to the MarTech podcast, thanks for sticking around. we're always looking to learn about our listeners, so if you have questions, comments, or if you'd like to be a guest on the show specifically.
Benjamin: If you'd like to be a member of our career day franchise, click the contact us form on the MarTechh pod website or the link in our show notes. If you haven't subscribed yet and you want a weekly stream of marketing and technology knowledge and your podcast feed, we've got some great episodes lined up for the next few weeks, including how to build a MarTechh stack for consulting business, and we're going to do a full week on marketing analytics and of course we're going to have other episodes of our new career day franchise, so click that subscribe button in your podcast app and we'll be back in your feed next week. Okay, that's it for today. Thanks again to will for joining us and until next time, my advice is to just focus on keeping your customers happy.