Q&A Session: Emily Kramer
The Emily Kramer Q&A Session is happening on Wednesday 26th April 2017 at 10AM PST (1PM EST)
Emily Kramer is VP of Marketing at Astro, which is focused on bringing AI to workplace communications and just launched in March. Previously, Emily spent 4 years at Asana as Head of Marketing, where she built and scaled the marketing function and team. Emily has also worked at Ticketfly, Salesforce, and Universal McCann, and was a founding team member at programmatic ad platform, Cadreon. Emily went to Tufts University and Harvard Business School. She currently lives in San Francisco.
Emily especially likes to talk (and type) about driving growth for freemium businesses, taking a B2C approach to B2B marketing, and growing and developing marketing teams.
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Emily Kramer – Former Head of Marketing at Asana / VP of Marketing at Astro – Transcript
Emily Kramer is the previous head of marketing at Asana, among other things.
The Q&A Session with Emily was held on March 21st, 2017. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, etc.
Hi Emily — how did your talk at Tradecraft go last night?
Tradecraft talk was fun!I really like what they are doing there.
Previous head? what did you move onto and why?
I left Asana after about 4 years. I was the first marketer and grew the team to 20+
. I was looking for a change, and I really like early stage startups.So I joined a 12-person startup called Astro, focused on bringing AI to email.Helped raise the series A etc.I still love Asana a lot and use it every day. Happy to talk all about it here.
Did you leave your Asana login with the last task as “Have last day at Asana” as a tribute?
I did count all my completed tasks. I tweeted the number…it was a lot.
You were over the marketing during the very large growth period at Asana. What was the marketing channel/campaign you found drove the most growth?
Our largest driver was always word of mouth, coming through as organic search traffic and unattributed traffic. We always had about 15-25% paid acquisition at Asana, with about 60-75% being SEM, for all four years.
How was it working with Dustin Moskowitz?
Dustin is extremely hard working and dedicated. He really helped drive culture and process at Asana, as well as acting as CTO and CEO (we didn’t have titles).
Do you have any advice on how/where to get more involved in AI if you don’t already have chops in that space?
Most people that work in AI right now don’t have AI chops (even some AI engineers are learning on the job). It’s still pretty new. I knew a lot about workplace communications and collaboration, so going to a company focused on AI in that space was enough.
What is your routine to keep updated about marketing? Reading? Talking to other professionals?
I see someone from my Asana team at least once a week and still bounce ideas off them. I’m a team of one on the business side at my current role, so I rely on friends and former coworkers to help edit and gut check things. I pay them in beer.I think keeping in touch with old coworkers is key, everyone moves on to other things and has new experiences.
Can you share some podcasts that you like?
How I Built This (good insights from founders), a16z, The Talk Show with John Gruber and HBR IdeaCast are some that I listen to…
I saw in your bio that you like to bring “B2C tactics to B2B” – what’s your favorite example of that?
This largely means that building a brand is just as important to me as driving growth. I think the two go hand in hand and lead to better long term results. I also think that every piece of content you create should actually add value. If you don’t want to read it, other people won’t want to read it. So I tend to avoid things like white papers, gated content, overly long case studies, etc. The biggest challenge here is convincing a sales team that they don’t need this stuff. But if you get them the right number of leads, they tend to not complain.
Do you have a preferred workflow style that you or your company uses like GTD/Kanban/Scrum/Hybrid…etc?
Definitely a hybrid. I’m big on goals that all ladder up. So yearly goals, quarterly goals, monthly goals and using sprints to hit those goals throughout a quarter. I also love Asana, and think it really keeps everyone on the same page. I also really like the idea of “Polish Week” or even “Polish Day,” which is an Asana thing. And the idea there is to keep a running project of tiny user facing improvements that may not take priority normally, and just get through as many as you can during Polish Week. It makes a big difference and helps a lot with things like cleaning up landing pages that have become off brand or poorly designed due to a/b testing.
I find the “Today, Upcoming and Later” organizing a very powerful tool for focus. How do you encourage users to see the value in changing their behavior to use such a feature, when so many people have not used something like this before?
I love this too. But, I mainly always encouraged my team to use and add due dates to tasks. My rule was, if you can’t get to something with a due date of today, that’s probably okay. But comment on the task and explain why and give an accurate due date. As a team lead, it was impossible for me to get everything done that people assigned me in a given day, but I always set clear expectations and responded if the due date was today. I think this goes along way in building functional teams.
If you had to give one piece of advice to someone responsible for growth at a company that helps teams collaborate, what would it be?
Encourage users to do things that cause other users to get product notifications. In Asana, an example of this was assigning a task. Getting teams of people to use the same product is a challenge, especially free users. Our email drips really focused on these features/actions.
Hey Emily, what’s your profile picture about?
Taking a simple one. That’s me in a ballpit at the Asana redesign launch party in 2015. Ball pits are fun. That’s pretty much it.
Were there any specific habits or things you did in your early days that helped you find opportunities and get to where you are today (professionally)?
Take time to hire, surround yourself with people who are really smart, and learn from them. Also, just be on top of what you need to get done. I just always made sure I was on top of my work, and that went a long way early on. I also always try to have a little fun at work (see ball pit comment a few minutes ago). That goes along way too.
How do you deal with feeling overloaded from work?
I can’t lie and say I’m awesome at this. But, having a dog helps. I also see a lot of live music, that’s sort of my therapy. I also am a ruthless prioritizer. And I accept that I can’t do all the things.
How do you differentiate Asana from other project management tools like Basecamp? Do you focus on product, price, promotion?
We focused on brand and content. Asana had an innate culture around building the best possible team and practices, so we talked about that in our content. Our content was an extension of our culture, so it felt authentic. This also made us seen as experts in not only project management, but in collaboration and teamwork in general.Product was also really important to us. We had a clear vision for what we wanted to build, and tried not to get super swayed by what competitors were doing (at least in my opinion).
Any projections on what an Astro 2.0 would look like? Beta already looks pretty awesome.
Platform. We want to apply AI and our chatbot to other types of communication.
Who is your marketing role model?
I don’t know that I really have just one. But I think Richard Branson is pretty amazing at marketing. And not afraid to make big bets and big mistakes, which I admire.
What’s the best way to find early stage startups that are looking for marketing talent?Everything I see is just mostly looking for devs.
Find a way to communicate with the founders; at some point everyone needs marketing.This can be as simple as being a power user of a product. Send feedback to the support email, etc. It can also mean going to an event the founder will be at, tweeting at them, etc.
Is Astro open to download and try out yet? Is it exclusively for business or personal accounts? Both?
Totally free for any Gmail or Office 365 email, on Mac, iOS, and Android, download at helloastro.com.
What is the best practice/rule you can follow to be original in order to innovate and don’t end up being the same as your competition?
I’ll answer this from a marketing perspective – make room for experimentation. We always had goals related to our core metrics, but also set goals around just trying things (where the goal was learning and doing). Hackathons, Polish Weeks (which I described earlier) are great for this, even on marketing teams.
What’s the number one metric a SaaS marketing team should be judged on?
I like LTV:CAC, http://www.forentrepreneurs.com/saas-metrics-2-definitions-2/. Depending on the business model, I also like to look at invites per user (this is sort of similar to NPS, but instead of asking if you’d tell a friend, you are looking at if they actually did it).
For Entrepreneurs: SaaS Metrics 2.0 – Detailed Definitions – Intro. This page is a supplement to the SaaS Metrics 2.0 blog post. It provides detailed definitions for each of the key metrics used in that post.
With the standard people/processes/technology division of marketing tasks, where is your favorite space to spend time? How do you think a company should allocate time/priority to the different areas?
The second part of this is tough to answer. I think it really depends on the stage and type of business. For me, I love brand and design, and funnel optimization – the two opposite ends of the spectrum. While I think content is crucial, I like to have a content expert working with me. I can write, but I’m not a writer – it’s not my passion. So I recognize this and try to hire great people in this area.
Being able to scale word-of-mouth is a long-term effort, obviously, but do you feel there was a tipping point at Asana that enabled this? Like the team being really confident on the product, marketing tactics by itself or whatsoever?
Not sure there was a tipping point, really. But I think the key to this is to give people reasons or things to share. Content was helpful here. As were little things – Asana is known for its flying unicorns and yetis. If you complete a lot of tasks, a random character flies across your screen. This sounds ridiculous, but people love it. We had this as a hack, saw that people loved it, and just leaned into it. And celebrating successes and getting stuff done is what Asana is all about, so it just worked well for us.
Do you prefer hiring specialists/jack-of-all-trades/both?
Depends on how big the team is really. I like hiring “Full-stack” marketers for lack of a better phrase. People who are scrappy, self-starters, and can operate at a strategic level, but also like being in the weeds. This is obviously important at early stage startups, but I like to look for this even as teams get bigger.I also look for T shaped skill sets.
Somewhere up there, there was a good question about Asana Premium not seeming worth it. This is an interesting challenge for freemium businesses, and one that asana faces. You want to make free good so people have an awesome experience, want to use the product, and tell others about it. But, you also need to make money. I think at the beginning, when investors etc. aren’t as worried about revenue, free should be really good. But at some point, you have to make the switch. And then you need to think about what the buyer is going to care most about, and charge for that. And think about what the end user is going to care about (the person who will sign up) and make that free. Hopefully the 2 things are different, and then you’re in good shape with a freemium SaaS business model and product.
How do you see yourself professionally in five years?
I’m torn between continuing to take leadership roles at startups I’m excited about, and building teams and scaling growth, and starting my own company. We shall see.
If you could go back, what would you do differently at Asana?
We didn’t build out landing pages fast enough. This hurt us in SEO and paid. We weren’t able to use a lot of out of the box landing page tools (like Unbounce) due to security reasons (Asana is really stringent about security, which I respect and think is important). Not trying to say bad things about Unbounce, it just wouldn’t work given our sign-up flow. Given that, we dragged our feet for too long here.
Re: your role at Asana: at any point did you consider opening up Asana so teams can collaborate with outside stakeholders (clients/suppliers) even if these stakeholders don’t have an account with Asana? If not, what do you think of such a feature – will it add value?
I’ve always loved Trello’s public boards. Asana does allow for guests, but the public boards are just a great way to share how Trello works and a good tool for other businesses. I would like to see Asana do something like this.
Pricing question: from your experience, what works better for freemium products? A model like $9 / month or $99 / year or a combination of both?
I like per user/per month, with a discount for paying annually. But again, not one size fits all.
Since you are very familiar with growing startups I have this question. I am running a start up to offer web development services. What is the most important thing I should do to make my business grow and maybe the second one?
I’m in a similar spot at Astro right now. Listening to feedback is crucial. Find earlier users who like to talk, even if you don’t always want to hear it. I think this is more important at first (depending on your runway) than huge user numbers. A group of engaged users is really helpful. But of course, be careful not to just listen to the loudest user. This is just one of many signals that should help influence roadmap and marketing.
As you move to different companies and into different roles, what characteristic would you say is needed/ has helped you the most (negotiating, speaking, leadership, writing etc)?
I’ve tried to become as well-rounded as possible. I also just get things done and am not afraid to do the hard work. I’m more analytical than anything else, but I’ve pushed myself on speaking, writing, growing as a manager, etc. I also feel most confident in hiring growth marketers/other analytical types. I know what to look for, because that’s my core competency. Given this, I was able to delegate and trust what was happening on my team at Asana, and focus on expanding my other skills.
When looking at a new technology, new potential campaign, new channel, etc., what is your process for choosing what to prioritize and what path to go down? It seems to me there is never a place where a marketer can say, “Well, I’m done now, everything is working great,” and I always struggle deciding “what next” with that portion of time/resources we commit to growth.
What is your process for choosing what to do? Hunches? Spending time in the community seeing who else has done it? Research and projections based off of data? Or…???
This is a really good and challenging question. The other challenge here is working on lots of tests or areas of the funnel at once and not messing up your results. I like to actually try to project the impact of tests based on historical performance and expected volume. Intuition also plays a big role. I also like to spend concentrated periods of time on one area of the funnel. It can be easy to think top of funnel tests are more worthwhile, because the numbers are just bigger and tests are faster, so I remember to force myself to spend some time down funnel. Goal setting is good for this. Pick a focus for a quarter and use that as the guiding light for what to test and work on.
Do you think degrees carry much weight in hiring marketers?
Full disclosure that I have a Harvard MBA. That said, I’ve never hired a Harvard MBA (not opposed to it, but not sure that’s the best prep for becoming a tech marketer). But, I look at degrees as a single signal on who to hire, one of probably 10+ other things – there are many degree equivalents I look at. So, it can help for sure, but I try not to put too much weight on this. It’s mostly helpful when scanning resumes, and as the interview process continues, I throw it out the window.
When you were at Asana, what was the metric you were aiming for that made users become active on a daily basis? E.g. number of tasks created or something similar?
We had a number of core actions we looked at, and tasks was one of them. We also looked at collaborative actions.
I’ve gotta jump out of here. I’m actually doing another AMA with Astro on reddit about building our chatbot at noon. If anyone has questions about AI or Astro, we’ll be tweeting a link to it in about thirty minutes from twitter.com/astro. (shameless plug). We’ll have two engineers answering questions as well.
Thanks for the great questions! This was really fun, and it really put my fast typing skills to the test.
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