Many marketing leaders are judged entirely on their ability to drive growth in their organizations. Which means one who is responsible for driving an organization to a $12 billion dollar valuation is definitely worth paying attention to.
One such marketer is Austin Beveridge, who shared with us his experience as the "Growth guy" at Bolt, and how he's applying those lessons as Head of Marketing at Arc Technologies.
Originally an episode of CMO Convo, you can now read our full conversation below.
Austin Beveridge: Decacorn veteran
Hi, Austin. Welcome to CMO Convo. We’re going to be exploring some very interesting ideas about how to grow companies, an area that you have a lot of experience in. Would you like to share a bit about your background and why we're speaking about this subject today?
Sure. I grew up in Wisconsin, where I went through a few different accelerators with a few different startups. Then I joined a corporation and learned a lot about processes, organization, and working cross-functionally.
Then moved out to Silicon Valley, where I joined Bolt. I was the second marketing hire – Robirt joined a few weeks before I did. When we joined, there were just over 100 people; when we left earlier this year, we had just under 1000. The startup had gone from a few hundred million in valuation to over $12 billion. It was a wild ride. We learned a ton, and I’m excited to dive in and share some of those lessons today.
Fantastic. So that $12 billion valuation makes it a decacorn? Is that the term we're using?
Yeah. We scaled it from a startup to a unicorn and then a decacorn, and we're hoping to do the same thing here at Arc. We raised our seed earlier this year, we raised our Series A in August, and now we're well on our way to being the next FinTech unicorn.
Lesson one: Build a culture of experimentation
What was the biggest lesson you learned from your time at Bolt that you're applying to Arc?
In startups, we often have the idea that you have to move fast and break things. I think moving fast and breaking things is great when you're starting to get off the ground and you just have to execute. However, the biggest thing I learned is that at some point you have to get the foundation right. That’s the baseline for all the different things that all your systems run on top of.
Some examples of that are making sure your CRM is set up properly or making sure you have a website that scales – meaning you have the correct technical stack so that you don't have to continuously engage with development agencies to make sure it gets across the track.
Sometimes you just have to take a step back, think through your next 10 steps, and build the right foundation. From there, you can construct your house and scale.
Moving fast and breaking things sounds fun, but it's not really a plan you can share with your CEO. They'll want to see a proper strategy in place.
Yeah, although I will say that we were encouraged to take risks. We were encouraged to be 20% wrong, which I think makes an environment of psychological safety, where people are willing to put themselves out there.
A really good example of that is when we launched Bolt Coalition. We brought together a bunch of different artists, and then thought, “Hey, we serve this one-click checkout to eCommerce retailers – maybe we can demonstrate it to our partners, to our prospects, and to consumers by letting them interact with the checkout in the native experience owned by Bolt.”
We partnered with up-and-coming artists across the country, built this entire store, and then to kick off the launch of that store, we decided to have a penny hoodie sale to create as much buzz as we could. We had the idea on the fourth of July, and on the sixth of July, we did it.
In the first hour, I think we had 1000 orders. The second hour, we had 1500 orders. The third hour we had maybe 2500 orders. Then in the span of 30 minutes, we had 5000 orders. Then in the span of five minutes, we had 15,000 orders. I think at the peak, it was 150 orders per second. That caused the entire Bolt checkout network to go down.
We hadn’t engaged engineering or even told them about the penny sale. We just went ahead and did it. Needless to say, that sparked a lot of fun conversations with the engineering team.
That day, we learned that you have to get engineering involved upfront. Because they weren't involved, we took out the entire network. Luckily, it wasn't during the holiday season. They had it up and running again in 30 minutes, so it wasn't a big deal, but it was just one of those lessons where we didn't think it was going to scale up and it just exploded.
Well, better to break things through a massive success than a failure.
Yeah, although, on the note of failing, you know how when you get your credit card statement, they tie the merchant number back to each transaction? Well, when I signed up for the merchant record, I put my phone number on it, so all 28,000 of those people got my phone number on their credit card statements. Needless to say, I played a marketing role, but then also a customer experience role and an order fulfillment role – “Hey, where's my order?” That was fun.
Having that kind of success – even if it does break your entire website – sets you up nicely to be able to experiment further. Once you've got that kind of win under your belt, you can say, “We've had successes by experimenting here; now let's try some other stuff.”
A culture of experimentation is very important for growth. What steps are you taking at Arc to create this culture?
I think the biggest thing, when it comes to experiments, is that you have to have a goal in mind. Whether you're trying to drive top-line revenue, achieve a lower cost per click, or drive a cheaper cost per impression, the core thing is to create a framework for these experiments and tie it to some top-line goal.
For example, today, we're trying to drive a certain volume of assets under management (AUM) – essentially the deposit volume in our treasury account – so we're running a bunch of experiments across paid campaigns, email lifecycle campaigns, and some of our outbound notions to figure out what works.
When you're entering a new market, you have to figure out what the audience cares about. What are those three or four things that they really connect with? Until you experiment and start to tick off those boxes one variable at a time, it's hard to understand what's working.
Some of the things that are working really well for us today are LinkedIn InMail and conversational ads. Essentially, you upload a list of all the target customers you want to hit, then you create conversational ads that hit their inbox, and then from the inbox, you can see how many people engage with those ads and how many turn into leads.
Unlike with Google, where you're taking a shotgun approach to hit everybody searching for specific keywords, with this approach, you can be very targeted and talk to certain companies and titles. Then, based on the response rate, you figure out which value prop didn't resonate and which value prop you want to double down and continue to change individual variables.
In short, when you’re experimenting you need to keep these three questions in mind:
- What's the top-line goal?
- What are the couple of variables I want to test?
- What channel mix can I use to test those different variables out in the market?
Lesson two: Align sales and marketing through OKRs
What’s the second lesson you're taking from Bolt and applying in Arc?
The next biggest thing is the necessity of sales and marketing alignment. A lot of the time, when you're scaling a startup, marketing has very different goals than sales. What I mean is that marketing in most organizations is gauged on how many marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) hit the funnel. Their job is to essentially drive top-of-the-funnel leads and nurture them to hit sales.
The problem is that sales is not gauged on how many MQLs they drive; it's how many opportunities they close, so marketing doesn't necessarily care if the MQLs they drive turn into opportunities in the end. We have two different paradigms of success that we need to bring together.
To do that, we have to reset from the top level. Organizations should have objectives and key results (OKRs) – essentially a framework for understanding what everybody is trying to accomplish together.
Inside of those OKRs, instead of having “generate 1500 MQLs” as the headline key result, tie it to some amount of revenue. Maybe you’re aiming for $100 million in first-time advances or $50 million in deposit volume. If you're in SaaS, maybe it's 50,000 new subscriptions.
That way, you start to align your marketing activities to hit opportunities. Instead of prioritizing quantity, you have to figure out how to optimize the funnel to get as many qualified leads as possible that will ultimately turn into opportunities. That aligns your sales function with your marketing function, so those two teams kind of become a revenue org rather than operating in silos.
I think we've done a really good job of that here at Arc. Everybody on the revenue team is working together towards hitting these revenue goals; it’s just how we achieve them that’s a little different. Sales is doing outbound notion – calls and a variety of other activities that drive opportunities – and marketing is incentivized to make sure that we get the proper amount and type of opportunities into the funnel.
When you align those two functions, you have very different conversations. Sales isn't complaining about the quality of leads, and marketing isn't complaining about sales not closing leads. It just creates a much more conducive environment for getting things done.
Lesson three: Recognize when it’s time to rip and replace
Cool, so lesson number two: align sales and marketing. What’s lesson number three for building a decacorn?
The next lesson is ripping and replacing solutions when they don't stop the bleeding. A lot of the time, you hear about people putting band-aids on problems because we have to move fast, right? But the problem with slapping band-aids on certain problems is they just don't stop the bleeding.
A really good case in point is we had built a website, and we had to make changes really fast, so we were constantly trying to figure out on the fly how to push these changes while scaling. The only solution we could come up with was to hire a variety of different developers.
The problem with that is you end up with patchwork solutions. You have some people working on one code base, some working on a different code base, and none of those code bases talk to each other. It wasn't scalable. The other problem was we had people pushing code, and when they’d push code, it would break what somebody else had built.
Eventually, we just had to take that entire stack and rebuild it from the ground up. We could have saved ourselves a lot of work if we’d taken a step back and said, “Where do we want the website to head in the next six months? Now, what's the framework that's going to set us up for success, and who's the right partner to do that?”
That’s the approach we took at Arc. We said, “We have this website that we built over the past few months. It has a few product pages and a few pages that exist in the ether. Rather than having this legacy code base plus a new code base, why don't we take that whole thing and rip it and replace it with something new so that it's componentized and scalable?”
Now, every single page on the website is componentized, so you can take any component at any time and build any page in a matter of minutes. That just wouldn't have been possible before.
Sometimes you have to realize that band-aids will solve a problem for the short term, but when you're bleeding out, you just have to rip and replace; otherwise, you'll do yourself a disservice in the future.
Lesson four: Invest in integrated marketing
We're on to a good one here. Looking forward to lesson four!
The next lesson is about the role of integrated marketing in a world of channel experts. The narrative is that you have to be an expert in a specific channel, whether that’s email, paid, content, or some other channel.
While I think that's right, it only applies to startups of a certain scale. Startups that are growing need people that can go across the spectrum and operate in every channel because they don't have the budget to hire channel experts.
As the organization scales, you can start to bring in those specialists. Now, instead of somebody spending 5% of their time on social media, you have somebody's entire day spent on social media. What does that mean? Well, in practice, that means you get a ton more output.
At the end of the day, when you're growing a startup it doesn't really matter where your impact comes from; you just need the brand as a whole moving in the right direction.
Later, as the organization scales, each channel has to contribute to that top-line revenue goal. That’s where integrated marketing comes into play. An integrated marketer is like a symphony conductor. They ensure that every member of the team executes their deliverables on time and in harmony with one another. Regardless of where you interact with the brand – whether it's a landing page, an email, or social collateral – it should all feel and sound the same.
Some brands that have done this really well are players like ClickUp, which has talked about one app to rule them all, and Workato, which is automating the work out of everything. They’ve transcended their brand and created a cohesive story that people just get no matter where they interact with it. That's integrated marketing's job.
When it comes to finding the talent you need to fill these roles, how do you go about it? In startups, you might not have the luxury of the budget to hire dynamite marketers, and it’s very competitive in the hiring market at the moment, so where do you look to find the right people for these roles?
We attended the CMO Summit in San Francisco a few weeks back, and one of the sessions was talking about this exact thing. How do you find these generalists? They're in such demand that they don't exist. There's no supply, so how do you find them?
The first thing to remember is that if you have great people, they also know great people, so you can leverage your employees’ networks. Ask them if they know any great BDRs, SDRs, or email and lifecycle specialists.
Once you've gotten that initial connection, have them post out to their LinkedIn networks because typically, if they have a close network, they also have a wider mesh network on LinkedIn.
We used to do recruiting sessions where everybody in the marketing organization would take 30 minutes out of their day every couple of weeks to source a role that we were trying to hire for. We'd all go through our networks on LinkedIn and find first connections, second connections, and third connections then make a list,
The recruiter would then reach out like, “Hey, I saw, you're connected with Austin and you guys interacted at this place a few years ago. I wanted to know if you're interested in talking about an open role we have. I totally get it if you're happy with your current role, but I’d at least love to have an introductory conversation to get to know each other.” So that's the first step: leveraging your network.
The second thing is having great recruiters. In the same way that great marketers help blow up your brand, great recruiters with a network of other recruiters are also super impactful. Recruiters typically know other recruiters in different niches. There's a kind of behind-the-scenes swap that happens where if you introduce me to a candidate, I'll introduce you to another candidate you're looking for. And so leveraging your recruiters is super important.
The last thing is just having a story that people interact with. At Bolt, the craziest thing I saw was when we opened up a position for an entry-level marketer on our team. Typically, you'd get maybe 100 applications. We received over 750 on day one – nuts, right? By having a brand that makes people think, “These guys are really cool!” you drive that inbound funnel.
A lot of the time, people think marketing is just focused on driving sales, but actually, marketing is driving everything. It's helping to drive talent into the funnel. It's helping to drive partnerships into the funnel. It's helping to drive sales into the funnel. It's even helping to drive investors into the funnel. We used to spend a lot of our time thinking about how to reach investors because the more investors hear about you, the more interested they are in you.
It must also be important to have good internal branding and an attractive company culture that people would actually want to share with their network to encourage others to come and work with them. Are you taking any steps at Arc to drive that?
Yeah. Let's talk about what we did at Bolt and how we're applying it here.
At Bolt, we created this entire framework called Conscious Culture. It's essentially a playbook showing how to build a culture of high performers and nurture them through their entire lifecycle. That means creating the best possible onboarding experience, developing the best possible ramping-up experience, and once you have talent in position, building an environment conducive to giving good feedback.
How we're applying those lessons at Arc starts with some of the same things. We’ve built a great onboarding experience. When new people come in, they learn everything about the business and its different functions, and they have meetings with all of the channel experts, so they get a really good understanding of what we do out of the gate.
Then, as that individual continues through their lifecycle, they have an onboarding buddy that can walk them through the process and answer any questions that they have. Later, as they mature in the organization, they get onboarding buddies of their own, so they're taking the same kind of feedback they received earlier in their lifecycle and giving it back to the newer generation.
By creating this flywheel of people coming into the lifecycle, maturing throughout the organization, and then kind of giving back, you create this culture of really positive impressions and feedback.
At Bolt, it was really nice to work alongside really smart, intelligent, and humble people, and I think we've done a great job of bringing those same traits here to Arc.
Lesson five: Facilitate a feedback flywheel
We’ve had four awesome lessons so far, plus a couple of bonus lessons along the way. What’s lesson number five?
Lesson five is about the importance of the feedback flywheel in nurturing your team of high performers. High performers are hard to find, but now once you find them, how do you make sure that they're really happy? The first thing is giving them challenges. It's challenges that make them excited to come to work every day. One of the biggest obstacles to retaining high performers is they need to have hard problems to work on because if they don't, they get bored.
So you give them the hard problems, but now how do you make sure that they're growing and developing, not only as individuals but also as a professional in the workplace? By creating a feedback flywheel. And so how do you give good feedback? Well, there's an entire section on it in the playbook I mentioned earlier, but at a high level, the most important thing is the formula that you give feedback in.
We try to give feedback once a week in one on ones, and the format that we use is “Thanks for; wish that.” Thanks for the things you did that went above and beyond what I expected; wish that you’d done this. Maybe you wish they’d taken the initiative to launch a new marketing campaign or to speak up during a meeting about a problem they were facing. When you leverage this formula, people are much more receptive to feedback, and it works much better.
Another tip I've learned over the years is to give two to three pieces of positive feedback for every piece of constructive feedback you have, leveraging more “thanks for” than “wish thats”. You’ve also got to think about how you give that constructive feedback. I have my own process, which is the XYZ formula. X is what happened, Y is what's the impact, and Z is a couple of solutions that I think we can move forward with.
Leveraging that three-to-one ratio of positive feedback to negative feedback, explaining the impact, and lastly giving them a solution and a way to move forward creates this flywheel of people constantly receiving feedback, so they know what they're doing, how to improve, and where they're heading in the future.
Feedback has got to be a two-way street, as well. What kind of steps are you taking in that respect?
Typically, feedback flows top-down, but at Bolt and Arc, we have that top-down, but also, more importantly, the bottom-up.
Managers can share feedback, but their direct reports have feedback too. When you give them the framework to provide feedback to their manager, and it's even expected that they do so, you can leverage that feedback in performance reviews. That way, you paint a picture of how that individual tracked over time, not only from their own perspective and their manager’s but also from their direct reports. It creates a nice equilibrium.
The other thing we used to do is skip-level meetings, where direct reports would meet with their managers’ managers. It allows them to share feedback that they might not otherwise feel comfortable sharing, and because managers typically have six or seven direct reports, there's no tie back to that individual.
You've got to action the feedback as well. It can't just disappear into a black hole – that would do even worse damage than if you didn’t take feedback at all.
Very good point. That's why we tie feedback to those performance reviews, which are not only about all the things you've done well, but also the things you can work on. Having that feedback framework and a log of conversations about things that somebody needed to work on makes it very clear whether or not they checked that box or not. Now, if they haven’t acted on that feedback, you can have a conversation about why not and how to fix that, etc.
If you have that track record of continuously posting feedback – publicly, by the way, so that other people can see it – you have a framework conducive to growing professionally because you're held accountable. You can't just ignore feedback because everybody knows you're supposed to be working on it and if you're not working on it, well, now there's accountability.
Having evidence that the company is taking steps to respond to bottom-up feedback is going to make people want to stick around longer because they’ll feel like they have more influence over what happens in that company. They’re part of the story in a bigger way than just some office drones plugging away.
Yeah. I think maybe the single biggest contributor to attrition in an organization is feeling like you don't have a say in what they're doing. By giving employees a framework and a platform to share feedback, not only with their managers, but their managers’ managers, and then their managers’ managers’ managers, you make sure everybody has a say so that the loudest voices in the room don't always win
Sometimes I find myself being that loudest voice in the room, so I have to take a step back and say, “Maybe my perspective isn't right. I thought about the problem in this way, but maybe somebody else has a different perspective.” I've tried to self-reflect into giving other people the chance to share what they have to say before I say anything.
That's got to be a very difficult trait to learn as a leader because you are sort of expected to be the big voice in the room, to be the inspirational one. Have you been reading anything in particular to learn to step back, or is it something that you've been naturally trying to develop yourself?
When you're surrounded by great people, you naturally take some of those habits up. I've also tried to take feedback to heart and do a lot of self-reflection on how I can be a better leader.
You're the average of the five people you surround yourself most with, so I try to surround myself with people who are not only doing their best in whatever space they play in but who are also just really good people.
I’d say one of the biggest impacts I've had is my fiancée, Ayana. She was a social worker, and now she's in human resources. One of the biggest things she’s taught me is it's not about what you say, how you say it, or even the intention behind it – what matters is the impact.
If you say something with the best of intentions but it has a negative impact on someone, their perspective isn't wrong. Everybody's perspective is right, so you need to take a step back, look at the impact of what you said, and think about it from the other person’s perspective. From there, it gets easier to figure out how you can take their input, put it to work, become a better leader, and present yourself and the company in a positive light.
When you do that, it just creates an environment that is much more conducive to building personal connections, and at the end of the day, you're working with people, so you want to be connected with them.
One of the greatest quotes that come to know is, “We try to be the seniors that we needed as juniors.” That’s so important because early in your career, you never know what's going to impact your trajectory, but there are always people who have fundamentally changed your trajectory by being a part of your life.
For me, one of those people is a professor I had at Whitewater – his name's Dave Gee. He put me through this entire entrepreneurship program and gave me the courage to take a chance and go out west. Another one is my dad. He did a great job of making sure I had the psychological safety to take risks and go do these crazy things. Another one is my mom. She pushed me to do my best no matter what.
You have these people in your life and you never know how they’re going to adjust your trajectory. Having the opportunity to do that now for the people who are in the shoes I was once in just means so much to me.
Austin, thank you very much for sharing that. That’s some great advice, not just for being a CMO but for being a great person.
Parting pearls of wisdom
Those were five great lessons. Before we wrap things up, do you have any final pieces of advice to share about how you're looking to grow Arc and how other people can replicate the success you've seen previously?
Yeah, I mean, as a kid, I grew up in Wisconsin, and I never thought that I'd have the opportunity to move out here and be a part of one of these unicorns. You hear all these stories about unicorn startups – back in the day it was Uber, then it was Lyft, and then it was Bird – and all these crazy people who have done all these crazy things and raised all this crazy money. But you have to realize that they're just people. They're people that took a risk.
As marketers, we sometimes think we don't have the opportunity to make such a large impact, but I would challenge that. You have the opportunity to do anything you want. You have the opportunity to fundamentally change the trajectory of the company, so just make the leap. Take the risk. Maybe you’ll fail, but you can pick yourself up, learn from it, and grow.
Something I’ve always kept in mind is you're either earning or you're learning, and ideally, you're doing both. If you're doing neither, then it's time for you to move on. If you feel stuck in your career because you don’t feel like you’re making an impact, just realize that there are opportunities out there for you to find – you just have to be looking.
If you don't swing the bat, you can't hit a home run, so just get out there and look and keep doing you. Be authentic in yourself and your story and own it, and when you make a mistake, own up to it and say, “I messed up, but it's okay. Here's what I learned.” I think that's what leaders are looking for today.
Some excellent words of wisdom there, Austin. Thank you very much for joining us today. It's been a great conversation, with some great lessons to take away, which will apply to CMOs not just in startups but across the board. Thank you very much for sharing them today.
Thank you very much for having me.
Do you have advice to share on growth? Got questions on the back of Austin's lessons? Join the conversation with a global network of CMOs and marketing leaders on the CMO Alliance Community Slack channel.