Hey there! Welcome to the Marketer Of The Month blog!
We recently interviewed Kate Fairhurst for our monthly podcast – ‘Marketer of the Month’! We had some amazing insightful conversations with Kate and here’s what we discussed about –
1. The state of brand storytelling in the early 2000s
2. The fundamentals of growing a SaaS business
3. Lessons learned from over half a decade of startup experience
4. Why deliberate decision-making for startups is preferred to hasty testing and adaptation based on market response
5. De-risking the journey to scale a business by focusing purely on value-driving activity
6. Turning down clients to focus on productization
About our host:
Dr. Saksham Sharda is the Chief Information Officer at Outgrow.co. He specializes in data collection, analysis, filtering, and transfer by the means of widgets and applets. Interactive, cultural, and trending widgets designed by him have been featured on TrendHunter, Alibaba, ProductHunt, New York Marketing Association, FactoryBerlin, Digimarcon Silicon Valley, and at The European Affiliate Summit.
About our guest:
Kate is passionate about assisting brands in driving engagement through digital excellence, content, public relations, and analysis. She makes digital channels more profitable for her clients as the CoFounder of GrowthMinds. She has been a content marketing champion since 2006, launching a variety of products and services to drive traffic and audience for brands.
Episode 079- Achieving Growth With Product Market Fit and Getting Your Brand Storytelling Right
Saksham Sharda: Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Outgrow’s Market of the Month. I’m your host, Dr. Saksham Sharda. I’m the creative director at Outgrow.co And for this month we’re going to interview Kate Fairhurst who is the co-founder of GrowthMinds. Thanks for joining us, Kate.
Kate Fairhurst: Yeah, no problem. Nice to meet you.
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The Rapid Fire Round!
Saksham Sharda: So, Kate, we’re going to start with a rapid-fire round just to break the ice. You get three passes in case you don’t want to answer the question, you could just say pass. But try to keep your answers to one word or one sentence only. Okay?
Kate Fairhurst: Okay, we’ll have a go.
Saksham Sharda: The first one is, at what age do you want to retire?
Kate Fairhurst: 55
Saksham Sharda: How long does it take you to get ready in the mornings?
Kate Fairhurst: Half an hour.
Saksham Sharda: The most embarrassing moment of your life?
Kate Fairhurst: Too many to be able to pick one.
Saksham Sharda: Favorite color?
Kate Fairhurst: Green.
Saksham Sharda: What time of the day are you most inspired?
Kate Fairhurst: I don’t know, pass.
Saksham Sharda: How many hours of sleep can you survive on?
Kate Fairhurst: I need a lot of sleep, eight hours is good.
Saksham Sharda: Fill in the blank: An upcoming marketing trend is __________.
Kate Fairhurst: An upcoming marketing trend is…(Guessing)
Saksham Sharda: Okay, we’re gonna skip that. The city in which the best kiss of your life happened?
Kate Fairhurst: London.
Saksham Sharda: Pick one – Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey?
Kate Fairhurst: Dorsey
Saksham Sharda: The first movie that comes to your mind when I say the word ambition?
Kate Fairhurst: Galaxy Quest.
Saksham Sharda: When did you last cry?
Kate Fairhurst: Two months ago
Saksham Sharda: How do you relax?
Kate Fairhurst: Walking, reading.
Saksham Sharda: How many cups of coffee do you drink per day?
Kate Fairhurst: Two.
Saksham Sharda: A habit of yours that you hate?
Kate Fairhurst: Pass
Saksham Sharda: The most valuable skill you have learned in life?
Kate Fairhurst: Only pick the battles you can win.
Saksham Sharda: And the last question is your favorite Netflix show?
Kate Fairhurst: Stranger Things.
Saksham Sharda: Okay, great. So you had two or three passes. So that’s good. That’s a good rate. And you don’t mean anything.
The Big Questions!
Saksham Sharda: We can now go on to the long-form questions. The first one is, that before joining the SaaS startup scene, you led thinking on how disintermediation fueled brand storytelling. How would you say it helped shape your career now that you look back at it?
Kate Fairhurst: So the first thing I should say was that was an awfully long time ago, about 15 years ago, so my memory is a bit fragile at the time. But back then I would say that the setup for brand storytelling was completely different. Everybody was much more reliant on the media as being conduits to audiences for telling their stories. So I’m looking back in the mid-2000s and the internet was stable, and people have figured out that they needed websites and that they needed to present themselves there. But the written, the richness of branded storytelling wasn’t in place in the way that it is now. And so brands were going through a journey to figure out what they needed to do on their websites and how. Back in the early days, it was really rudimentary and quite functional, rather than right now kind of content marketing has become branded storytelling through a funnel, it’s become demand generation, and it’s quite loose in terms of its impact. Whereas it was quite transactional back in the mid-2000s. If we put this content on the website, we will get SEO benefits, and we will drive this many people rather than thinking about the actual brand value. So I suppose the short answer is it’s ensured that everything to do with my career since that time has been to do with content marketing, and helping brands figure out how to do storytelling in a slightly more sophisticated way than just thinking about the SEO benefit. And that’s something that I’ve seen as a consistent thing, right the way through to today.
Saksham Sharda: And so having seen the past of brand storytelling and being in the presence of it, where do you think the future of brand storytelling is headed?
Kate Fairhurst: I think there’s further disintermediation still to come. I think disintermediation of media storytelling has happened quite extensively. I think the media still has, of course, huge benefits in terms of owned audiences that brands will never have. I don’t think brands have gone through the process of figuring out how to recreate the event space functionally. I think conferences and exhibitions still have an enormous amount of third-party value. The corporates can think more about how they can recreate an ad in their businesses without needing those channels themselves. So I think continuing to think about different channels and be more creative about the channels and routes to market is going to be important and brand storytelling continues to evolve. And then there are also technology enhancements that can feel differences in brand storytelling. These are often driven by the media as well. So media are starting to do virtual reality storytelling where you can play somebody inside an environment where the news is happening when you can get a 360-degree perspective of the news event. And brands typically move behind these kinds of evolutions. So as news based storytelling continues to evolve with the advent of live blogging, and immersive storytelling, I think these will continue to be embraced by brands.
Saksham Sharda: And speaking of brands that you’ve worked with, what were your learnings from launching your first startup in April 2014?
Kate Fairhurst: It was still a long time ago. So I thought I touched on the importance of events. And I suppose, potentially my biggest takeaway is that events remain the sleeping giant for brands’ storytelling, for themselves as much as anything else. If you look at the journey of many event companies, a lot of them started as publishers and the events were symbiotic to the publications that they ran, and then have been spun off over time. But you look at the way that LinkedIn is developing with direct market communication. And the format that it’s taking is now I think, moving faster than events companies are doing in terms of thinking ahead in terms of the new structures that can happen with events. So I think the importance of the events market and the need for the events market to evolve rapidly to stay relevant. And the other businesses who are doing events well are potentially my biggest takeaway.
Saksham Sharda: And how do you think the pandemic caused a little bit of a shake-up in the events industry? And how is it going to change after the pandemic?
Kate Fairhurst: Well, clearly broke a lot of business models for many event companies and stop people from going to events, I think that much is pretty obvious. But when you look at the evolution of events, and the events industry is fundamentally taking the same model as the media industry used to take, the events hold audiences. And people pay for access to those audiences, either physically, through sponsorship, or whatever. So it has accelerated the thinking away from in person. And how does this work digitally, given people still want to eyeball each other for effective communication? So I think because of the breakdown in business model with face-to-face, I think it forced the accelerated thinking into new ways to gain revenue from those audiences, which the events companies still hold, they still have extensive email lists that sit within those businesses that are a huge value to brands to have access to. So it’s looking at what other business models can be viable for them if face-to-face is always going to be reduced.
Saksham Sharda: So besides events, what are some fundamentals in your opinion that one needs to address to grow a SaaS business?
Kate Fairhurst: The first thing, and the most important thing for any SaaS business to be able to grow is having a product market fit, I would say. Without having a benchmark validated, data-validated product market fit, I think doing any growth for a SaaS business is risky. And I’m talking early stage here, right? But I think there are a lot of SaaS businesses out there who feel instinctively like they’ve got product market fit, but it’s not validated, it’s not benchmarked, and they’re potentially being overeager, impatient, over-enthusiastic, and trying to push ahead with their growth before they are ready. And in doing so, they are wasting time and budget focusing on the wrong things. Whereas, focusing on doubling down and strengthening their product market fit so their sales conversion rate, their retention rates, their client success goals are better. Yeah, really should be there for good.
Saksham Sharda: And we’ve also read online that, in your opinion, educated decision-making for startups is preferable to quick testing and adaptation based on market reaction. What would you have to say about that?
Kate Fairhurst: Yeah, I’m sure there are lots of people that will argue with me about this on. And I think again, this does apply to early-stage startups. So this is just my living experience. And I should also qualify that this theory applies more to B2B SaaS than it does to B2C because that’s where much of my career has been focused. But repeatedly, I’ve seen the same behavior that a B2B SaaS company has the logic of “Okay, well, what we’re going to do is we’re going to give a three-month window and maybe 1000 pounds budget or 2000 pounds budget to doing some growth experiments, and we’ll see what happens. And then based on what works will prove the investment potential, and we’ll double down on that.” And so often with b2b SaaS, that logic there is fundamentally broken. And the reason why it’s broken is that the size of the audiences for B2B SaaS is actually If it’s done right and product market fit or sound should be quite small. So you’ve got that real market resonance at the beginning, you know you nailed one niche, get that right, and you scale from there. So in the beginning, you’re targeting that small market. Now, A/B tests for a small market aren’t particularly academic, because you don’t have the volume of data to be informative, somebody who’s having a bad morning, or has been particularly enthusiastic about something can skew the data. And therefore, it stops you from taking those out learnings. And I think also the problem with this approach is that I don’t think entrepreneurs have always got a sense of the cost of a conversion and the time of conversion. So for example, if you play through the metrics looking, and many of these experiments are on advertising, it can be difficult to reach quite a small market. And then if it’s LinkedIn, you could be looking at a cost per click of 6 pounds, 50-15 pounds somewhere in the region, you know, between those two numbers or higher if you’re if your market is niche. And then what you’re doing is you’re driving to a landing page with a 3% conversion rate or whatever. And as you start to push through the funnel, your 1000-pound budget goes nowhere, particularly when you’re taking into account the amount of turnover and sales conversion time that it takes. So in that three-month window with that 1000 pounds budget, it’s very easy to learn that. Or at least, it’s very easy to learn that a three-month 1000 pound budget doesn’t work. And it’s very difficult to learn anything material other than this ad unit got a better click than that. But if you look at the time, and the reasoning that could be spent over that time, you could get so much further.
Saksham Sharda: And so you’ve also talked about de-risking the journey to scale a business by focusing purely on value-driven activities. So what constitutes such value-driven activities in your opinion?
Kate Fairhurst: Okay, so the value-driven activities vary depending on where a business is at. So Howard loves the startup J curve, which maps out the journey to growth that 90% of successful startups have taken. So it starts at create, it’s your big idea. Then you go to release where you’re putting something in people’s hands for the first time, then you move on to morph, where you’ve got some market feedback. And what you’re doing is refining and improving the product to the point that you’re confident that you’ve got something that people care about. Then you’ve got model, which is where you take your first steps to build a scalable route to market, but very tentative, then you go to scale, which is where you’ve got some proof, and you’re doubling down on your financing or doubling down and your staffing. And then you go to harvest, which is where you can really turn things up and potentially look to exit. So picking the right activities, depending on exactly where on that startup J curve you are. And I think a lot of businesses look further up the J curve and say, “Oh, we’re probably coming out of more of going into the model”, because that’s where they want to be. But often, a business can. If a business is at an early stage, the most important thing is getting user feedback on the product. And learning and bringing that in-house and adjusting it and getting as much depth from that user feedback as possible so you can improve the product and refine it more if it’s the same. It’s about improving their product market fit. That model is about finding those minimal Viable channels to grow. So it’s not about going hard on ad spending. It’s about going measurable and finding those channels through which you can measure impact and deliver that ROI within a feasible window. So, yeah I think my takeaway from that is to benchmark where you’re at on the startup J curve and be honest with yourself around where that’s at. And then your primary target is to get to the next stage, that’s all that matters. If you try and skip stages, you’ll slow yourself down. So pick the next stage, and then focus on the activity that’s gonna get you there and ignore everything else.
Saksham Sharda: And so could you give us any examples of brands that you’ve worked with that have been able to follow this in a good manner?
Kate Fairhurst: So I think brands could be misleading. So I work with early-stage b2b SaaS themselves. So I can give you an example of a business called Full Autonomy, which was bought by Blue Prism some time ago. And so what Full Autonomy did was they nailed their product market fit. And then they looked, as I say, at the minimum viable channels, so they set up things like Google search ads, Bing Ads, but then they also looked at an effective content marketing funnel, down the bottom of the business, looking at how to engage sales conversations and improve sales conversion rates. And that was a smart thing to do. Because at the model stage, the most important thing you can do is focus your energy on making sure the sales conversion rates are right. Because if you get that, right, if you’re getting a good proportion of leads being closed, you can’t lose. Whereas if you’re getting a huge volume of leads coming through, and they’re poor quality you can lose, because you’re probably spending more money on that. So they got that bit right. The marketing director, Laura put in some very clever content marketing systems and some good levers to pull to make sure that sales were following up. And then when that was working well, we were able to step in and look at, okay, how do you accelerate this? And what can you do to reach more people now, and get to the point where you’re able to take that solid foundation that you’ve got, and build on it? So looking at more experimental AD channels, looking at more things like partnerships and events, and how to use white papers and webinars and that sort of thing to scale conversions. So, that was very effective because they had that bottom of the funnel working, and they were able to get the meat from that additional activity. And so they were then able to move to harvest. And they did that except a few years ago, really effectively.
Saksham Sharda: And so your model also implies that it can be fair to turn down clients to focus on having all areas of a business correctly productized about scaling it up? What would you have to say about that?
Kate Fairhurst: I think a qualified agreement that it’s okay to turn down clients, with early-stage business, you’re always in the position of having to balance money, and presence of money and the life that you get from that money with doing the right things. Doing the right thing in this respect would be to turn down the business if it’s not completely adhering to the product market fit that you’ve got. There are two stages in product-market fit, of course, there’s the problem-solution fit so demarcate, you’ve got this problem, we’re offering a solution to it. Do you need that? Yes or no. But then the next stage of that is the product-market fit. So we have built this product, which market is the most appropriate for that? And what you’re trying to do there is sell your thing of that shape and size. And so taking business where you’re doing is “Oh, yeah well, we’ll build this extension to it to make it right for you”, isn’t validating and building on that product market fit. So it’s potentially taking you in a direction that’s going to burn resources without moving the business strategy forward. There will be times when you have got no choice but to take that revenue, but you need to think carefully about it.
Saksham Sharda: And so what would be your opinion on pivoting the entire business because you found a customer who you feel kind of embodies something that the market needs?
Kate Fairhurst: Warning, sort of sirens at max. I think everything that you do in the business should be geared to what the market is telling you. However, that should be validated on a volume of opinion, not on one person’s opinion. So you need 20-30 voices telling you what their problem is, what they’re doing to fix it, how much organizational backing they’ve got, how they feel about the fixes that they’re trying, what’s working, what isn’t if they had the perfect solution, what it would look like. And then it’s about aggregating all that feedback and taking the center of it and building to the center of it, not one person going, “Hey, I’ve got this requirement and go great, let’s turn the ship around and away we go”. You need to be very measured and controlled about it.
Saksham Sharda: Okay, so the last question for you is, what would you be doing if not this in your life right now?
Kate Fairhurst: I would be in a hammock in the jungle. There are two energies to my life. At my desk, I’m very high output, on very high energy, and very driven in terms of achieving growth for businesses. And then I switch off and I find somewhere quiet and I’m much more in tune with nature. And I read in, go trekking through the jungle soon. So if I weren’t here, that’s where I’d be. Expected this at this point.
Saksham Sharda: Okay.
Saksham Sharda: Well, thanks everyone for joining us for this month’s episode of Outgrow’s Market of the Month. That was Kate Fairhurst. Thanks for joining us, Kate.
Saksham Sharda: Check out their website GrowthMinds for more details and we’ll see you once again next month with another marketer of the month.