The Global VC

WMD ’16: Post-Conference Q&A with Brian Balfour

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Guest blogger – Brian Balfour, Founder & CEO, Reforge

The below article is comprised of audience questions asked to Brian Balfour during his presentation at Weapons of Mass Distribution 2016. Brian took the time to answer the questions in detail post-conference.


“How do you determine your platform?”

One of the most powerful things I’ve done in my career is to build my blog. The blog acts as a platform for me to distribute my work, thoughts, and creations. The reason having this is so powerful today is because I believe we are moving towards a world where credentials matter far less, and it is more about your actual work/output. My blog is the way I do that but with tools like Dribbble, Github, Medium, Slideshare, and so many others there are a lot of ways to build a platform for yourself. Deciding on which one to use depends on two things. One, your fit with the medium. Different people do better with different mediums. For me, it is writing and therefore the blog works. Others are better suited for video, audio, etc. Two, fit between the medium and your type of work. Different types of work are better displayed in different mediums. My recommendation is to try a few, see what feels the most natural and go from there.

“Would you pay a growth marketer a base salary or revenue share?”

No definitely not. I might consider performance bonuses based on a balance of criteria, metric performance being one of them, but never a direct revenue share or commission. A few problems with that approach:

1. They aren’t in control of their own destiny. The growth of a metric like revenue is almost always a team effort, not an individual effort. Therefore one individual can’t be in control of their own destiny when it comes to generating revenue.

2. People will always look for ways to game the system typically in the form of doing the least amount of work for the largest amount of gain. You see this on sales teams which are why a comp is often always restructured on a yearly basis to plug holes. You want your growth team pursuing authentic growth. Authentic growth is more than just quantity, but also quality. Revenue shares focus on quantity which can lead you to trouble.

“Hiring tips to find an awesome Growth Marketer?”

I participated with a few other growth leaders such as Andrew Chen at Uber, Elena Vern at SurveyMonkey, and Shaun Clowes at Atlassian on some of our tips to hiring for growth. A few notes:

1. Depending on the specialty you want them to focus on, I often find great people from nonmarketing backgrounds. Since a large component of growth is quantitative I find that people coming from math, statistics, or finance backgrounds to have the right foundation to be really successful.

2. In terms of sourcing, I have found places like AngelList and Hired to have the best candidates. You can also search for Reforge alumni on LinkedIn as we are pretty selective in our programs.

3. The most important thing is making sure growth/marketing isn’t a second (or third) class citizen within your company. A lot of companies turn their nose up internally at marketing. Product, engineering, etc look down on marketing/growth. If your marketing/growth talent feels like a second class citizen, they will seek out better places. Make sure other teams within your company understand the importance and philosophy towards growth to the point that they respect it.

“How would you work with “growth” before PMF?”

The first thing you need to do is understand if you are in the traction, transition, or growth phase for your company. The traction phase is typically pre-product market fit. There should be a few goals:

1. Generate as much growth that is needed to prove out retention which is the best indicator of product market fit. To prove out retention, you need to generate a certain amount of new customers. There is no reason to step on the gas until you’ve proven this retention out.

2. Start testing and building proof around your long term growth hypotheses. In the early days you need to “do things that don’t scale” to get traction. But you also need to start forming an educated hypothesis about how you are going to grow long term. There are only a few truly scalable channels and to grow into a huge company you will need to play in one of those channels. So a large part of your early efforts should be starting to understand which one it is.

“How long do you think it takes to become an expert at something? How do you know?”

First thing is to be very wary of the term expert. I don’t like the term because it implies you have nothing left to learn about the subject. That is a dangerous thought to have because growth is never done and the moment you believe you are an expert is the moment right before you become obsolete. Your learning is never done.

There is no specific timeframe to go “deep” on something. It depends on the capabilities of the individual, the project they are working on, the people around them that they can learn from, and much more. Going deep on something to me means you understand it at a level where you are in the top 20%. Some indications that you have gone deep on something:

1. Almost everything you read about the subject on the web feels intro level or just skimming the surface to you. You have a set of knowledge that isn’t being written about and regurgitated by every content marketer out there.
2. You’ve been forced to solve a problem that you haven’t been able to answer with some google searching and a couple easy conversations.
3. You find yourself being sought out for advice from other smart and experienced professionals in the space.

View Brian’s full presentation at WMD ’16:

Thank you to Brian Balfour for contributing to the 500 blog. For more insights from Brian, follow him at his blog, Coelevate, or on Linkedin or Twitter.

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