Shanee Ben-Zur: Q&A Session

Q&A Session: Shanee Ben-Zur

Shanee Ben-Zur Q&A Session is happening on March 24th 2021 at 10:00 AM PST (1:00 PM EST)

Shanee Ben-Zur is the Head of Marketing & Growth at Crunchbase, where she leads the teams that shape Crunchbase’s brand, acquire new customers, and retain users. With 15 years of B2C and B2B experience at startups and public companies, she understands how to bring the best elements of consumer marketing to the enterprise. She’s one part storyteller, one part data analyst, and one part armchair psychologist — always looking for new ways to connect with customers. Prior to joining Crunchbase, Shanee honed her full-stack marketing and communications skills at Dropbox (pre and post-IPO),, NVIDIA, and at agencies supporting clients like PlayStation and Intel.

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Shanee Ben-Zur – Transcript

AMA with Shanee Ben-Zur @ Crunchbase

March 24th, 2020

Hey @here – now’s the time! Our Q&A with Shanee B. (Crunchbase) is starting!!Shanee is the Head of Growth & Marketing at Crunchbase. She has 15 years of B2C and B2B experience at startups and public companies, and at Crunchbase, she leads the teams that shape their brand, acquire new customers, and retain current users. She’s one part storyteller, one part data analyst, and one part armchair psychologist and is always looking for new ways to connect with customers.Prior to joining Crunchbase, Shanee honed her full-stack marketing and communications skills at Dropbox (pre and post-IPO),, NVIDIA, and at agencies supporting clients like PlayStation and Intel.All that experience and she’s ready for your questions right now, so go for it!

Hey, everyone! Thanks for having my for today’s AMA! Hi, I’m Shanee Ben-Zur (pronounced like shuh-knee), and I lead all the marketing and growth efforts at Crunchbase. I’m excited to try to answer as many of your questions as I can. A bit more about my background:
I’ve been working in all parts of the organization. Truly, I’ve had responsibilities that spanned from building a brand to creating a growth engine, so I’ve seen a lot. My specialty is working for companies that have hybrid self serve AND direct sales go-to-market motions, figuring our how to win over a community and drive massive revenue growth. Like Sammi mentioned, I’ve worked for Dropbox, Salesforce, NVIDIA, and while at agencies supported PlayStation in the US and EMEA in building their blog and social media programs.On the personal side, I have bright purple hair, I believe reality TV is an undervalued genre, and I’m about to move from San Francisco to a suburb of Seattle. 

What is Crunchbase’s stance on remote work? And has this stance changed from pre pandemic to now?

We’ve shifted to remote using a node strategy. Wherein employees can be within 2 hour commuting distance from a few pre-approved locations throughout the US. While we don’t have physical presences in all of them, it allows us the freedom to do that in the future. And, creates a sense of community for the employees in that node.

Hi Shanee!Great to e-meet you.Thank you so much for taking the time out to share your journey + experience with us! I’d love to find out what you think about of the community-driven approach to user acquisition and how that fits with more traditional marketing roles…do you think both roles will converge or stay separate?

I think it very much depends on the product you’re selling. Dropbox lended itself to community growth because it was built on the premise of collaboration. Which in and of itself was very community driven.
Similarly, PlayStation was all about a community of gamers. So, tapping into that network and leveraging the power of the experts was super powerful in driving growth.
For other products, that may not be the case. That said, if you can build a community of passionate enthusiasts, it’s always the most cost-efficient way to drive growth. It’s just getting harder and harder to do that with social media, because most of the platforms are fully leaning into their commercial interests and leaning out from the organic community side of things.

Hi Shanee! 
Are you actively fighting your users that are scraping your repositories so they can resell it as a part of their service or are you indifferent towards them?

Crunchbase has live, constantly updated data. So, while it’s definitely a violation of our terms of use to scrape, and we do actively try to mitigate it, the reality is, soon after someone has scraped the data, it’s already stale and out-of-date.

Hi Shanee – any tips for optimizing signups for newsletters?

Crunchbase has a super active, thriving newsletter, called The Daily (not to be confused with the NYT podcast  ). All new registered users also subscribe to it. It’s been really powerful because we produce it every day (no small feat), and it includes key updates about what’s happening in the private-company landscape through a combination of editorial stories that our news site, Crunchbase News produces, and data updates that are in our database. By having this very of-the-moment content, we provide value to users. Oftentimes they tell us it’s the thing that drives their daily business decisions. So I’d say it’s the combination of a few things that drive success:

  • Opting in users early
  • Frequently sharing high value content
  • Creating content that is unique and not replicable

Hey Shanee! A real pointed question here — for an esports-focused mobile app service (where users compete head to head against another player on their favorite) — Do you have any referral-based marketing strategies? And what’s the best strategy for retaining those players?And another one, if you have the time — in your time working in eSports what did you find was the most desirable “sell” or value pro proposition to move the eSports demographic toward your product or service?

Hey Danie, I would say that esports was barely a baby when I was working with playstation, so admittedly I am not the premier expert. and, we were platform rather than mobile, so again, not my sweet spot. I wish I could be more helpful!

What we focused on for playstation was the hardcore enthusiast. Offering the feeling of going behind the scenes, particularly in the game development, making the developers almost like stars themselves, giving access and bringing them into the playstation fold. It was a lot about creating more answers to questions that maybe the gamers hadn’t even thought of.

For startup companies with limited marketing resources, how would you scale up over time? Thanks.

This is one of my favorite problems to solve. Lack of resources.My strategy is to work with executives to agree on what: (A) Our biggest growth opportunity is and (b) what our biggest existential threat to survival is.
For young organizations, the reality is, nothing else matters. As you get bigger and more advanced you can start to explore the vast expanse between these two questions. But to start, the whole company, not just marketing should be laser focused on winning and not going out of business.
In terms of how that typically translates to marketing: Usually it means accelerating the conversion of users who come to the product (i.e. focus on low hanging fruit), validating what it is they like and then beginning to apply those learnings one step up in the funnel (i.e. developing more consideration content). And if the problem is no one is coming, then marketing’s opportunity is to drive that traffic. Like it said it’s very specific to the opportunities/threats your company faces. But, do not let “oh, i have a good idea” dictate your marketing strategy. There are a million things you could do, but there are probably only one or two you should do.
It’ll feel weird at first saying no to so many things, but once people start seeing all the value you’re delivering, they’ll stop making suggestions for new things you should do, and start offering support to help you do the things you’ve already started.

Thank you for this Shanee B. (Crunchbase) —would be curious if you have some sort of rubric or quantitative approach to how you evaluate what are the right opportunities to take on?

Typically I do a funnel analaysis and look at the conversion rates for commmon stages in the funnel:

  • Awareness to visit
  • Visitor to trial start
  • trial start to customer conversion
  • Customer to activation
  • Activation to mid-life retention
  • Mid-life retention to renewal

(your funnel may be different, this is just illustrative).
I look across all of these conversion points and I try to assess which is the one that has the highest potential to double, triple, or even 10x. I do this at the executive company level, because it often reveals the underlying opportunity. You might find that you are investing in top of funnel awareness, but really your opportunity is in the trial conversion space.

Thank you! Shanee B. (Crunchbase) do you mind clarifying what you mean by the “executive company level?”

The CEO and the people who report to that person. They’re usually the ones making the decisions that affect everyone at the company. I wouldn’t do this analysis in isolation within marketing.

I’m interested to understand how you approach segmenting marketing/comm strategies between self serve customers and white glove type service models. How does that alter marketing strategies, how does it impact customer communication and how do you effectively divide and conquer when managing separate customer types with wildly different needs.Glad you joined us today! 

In my mind, the key differences in marketing to self serve vs direct sales (or white glove) customers, is the way they make purchase decisions and the way they actually transact.
Self serve customers are typically trying to make a purchase decision RIGHT NOW, and they want to swipe their card RIGHT NOW, and they want to try it for free, RIGHT NOW. That means all of my marketing is geared towards speed. Get you to the conversion point fast. Get you to a-ha moment fast. Remove all friction. Make it free (to start). Be wherever they are, and quickly get you to home plate (I don’t know sports, is that right?)Direct sales customers are also trying to make a purchase decision, but they’re full of caution because they’ve been burned so many times. With these audiences I do much more to think through objections and find ways to build journeys that are just knocking down objections and simultaneously building up reasons to say yes, over and over. And at each touchpoint, offering the option to talk to sales, but not making it the end of the conversation. My goal–like sales–is to always keep the conversation going. Even if sales DQ’s them, I still keep them on journeys. I push them to self serve. I just keep them in the ecosystem, because you never know when things may change.I do think that over time prospects are beginning to converge and everyone is operating more like a self serve customers, particularly because of the advent of free trials for enterprise-grade software. We all want what we want right now and we want to get to the finish line without having to talk to anyone.
I have so many more thoughts on this, but figure this is a good start!

Can you build 2 startups successfully at the same time? 

I haven’t  But if you can, that’s VERY impressive.

Hi Shanee, would you be comfortable sharing Crunchbase’s marketing tech stack? particularly around data, e.g. CDP, ESP, etc? and/or what’s causing your team the most friction in using those tools on executing on retaining subscribers?

We’re pretty early in our martech evolution. So far we have:

  • WordPress as our CMS for marketing content
  • Marketo for our demand gen forms/LPs
  • Just onboarding Iterable as our ESP
  • Internal data warehouse combined with Periscope for visualization
  • Internal A/B testing tools on product pages
  • Google Optimize for A/B testing on marketing pages
  • Drift for chat bot on marketing pages
  • Chili Piper for meeting scheduling with Drift Bot

I think that’s most of it!

Hi Shanee B. (Crunchbase)! What are your biggest tips for getting buy-in from co-workers to respect you and see you as a leader when you are relatively introverted and new-ish to the company?

Respect is such a tricky thing. I feel as marketers we’re often at a disadvantage from non-marketers. There’s a sense that anyone can do what we do, and so maybe they put less respect behind our accomplishments. But…hey, I’m not here for them, I’m here to make the company successful, so I figure, they’ll see in time what I can do Re earning respect from your teammates, or your direct reports, I think it’s really about building trust. At the end of the day, everyone is a little self-centered, and I think what most humans want is to know YOU respect THEM. So, I would spend time getting to know them, learning their agenda, understanding what parts of their job are hard, what parts are great. Figuring out how you can make them more successful. Once they see that you are an ally, an advocate, and a partner, they’ll absolutely appreciate you and respect you. I’ve never found success in earning respect through titles or force. It’s always been from those moments where I went above and beyond for someone else, or took the time to get to know them on a personal level.The one thing I would say (i’m an extroverted introvert) is that if you have any instincts to self-deprecate, or diminish yourself as a way of making other people feel safe: FIGHT THAT FEELING. You don’t have to make yourself small.  It’s absolutely a ok to be confident about what you know — you can always seek input — but you’re an expert, and that’s why you were hired.

Thanks for taking the time Shanee B. (Crunchbase)! Startups often need to pivot until they find market fit. How do you continually market a company that is changing focus and direction regularly?

Hooo weeeeee. That pivoting can get exhausting can’t it? Feels like you’re always running to catch up to the train, and then all of a sudden the train switches tracks.Here are some things I’ve done:

  • Set expectations with executives on the runway required for success around a specific strategy. For example: If we have no budget for ads, and we’ve built and SEO strategy to try and gain top of funnel awareness through content, I make it clear to executives that this takes at least 3 to 6 months of complete commitment. Any changes to the SEO terms will restart the counter. That way I’m up front about what I can deliver and what my requirements are. This is a page I’ve taken out of the product team’s book. I set out clear timelines and expected results, and then I force mutual agreement on those expectations from all stakeholders before I start executing. Then when things inevitably change, I invite those stakeholders back to help decide what the next course of action is, while outlining the pros and cons of each option.
  • I have a discussion with executives about what the over-arching value prop of the company is, so that while we try to find specific use cases that have product market fit, I can still build an umbrella brand that’s a bit more consistent and unlikely to change. usually this is around the company mission and vision — missions don’t often change, even while products too. This also gives my team something consistent to hold on to while the more tactical things change.

At the end of the day I just try to communicate and give a lot of visibility to the non-marketing parts of the company the downstream impact of the pivots, and position it in terms of how the value I can bring to them changes. It’s not perfect, but it helps in getting others at the company recruited into thinking through the implications of those changes.

How much attention would you say you give to SEO vs email vs ads vs events, etc. I LOVE content and SEO, but I feel like other elements steal away from that time.

The channel that turns out to be the most effective for the problem I’m solving is the one I give the most attention  I’m agnostic as to which channel is the absolute “best.” I’ve structured my org at Crunchbase as an experimentation engine. We approach everything as a hypothesis, rather than a “campaign.“I feel that campaign approach doesn’t give you the freedom to test and learn, and instead is all about execution as the goal. I want key metrics to be how we measure success.
for example: right now we’ve learned that there are many people who buy Crunchbase but do not know what premium features they’re getting access to. So, they continue to use the free features, and when they come up for renewal they sometimes struggle to justify the cost because it wasn’t totally clear to them what the different between free and paid was. This now gives my team an objective problem to solve! We know, through user interviews, that as soon as we do explain the awesome prospecting tools they actually get as paying customers they always have an a ha moment and freak out. So, our goal is to figure out: “What is the best way for us to convey early and often the premium workflows a customer can do with Crunchbase?” And now that unblocks my team to come up with a bunch of hypotheses to test. And each test is just looking for signal that a tactic could be effective, before we put all of our chips on that number. But, as soon as they do get signal I get them the green light to go in. It might be email, it might be ads, it might be content. But first we need to know whether it is effective in solving the actual problem we have.

What’s your ideal team size & structure? For a typical marketing team with both online and offline activities.

Marketing team size and structure depends on a few things:

  • Size and stage of company – very early stage companies may only need one marketer/athlete
  • Industry (b2c or b2b) – impacts that roles/structure
  • Go to market motions (direct sales or self serve) – impacts the roles/structure
  • Whether company has product market fit or not – if not, might not be time for marketing yet or at least not a full organization

Having worked in large and small, my best high level recommendations are:

  • When you’re at a startup/early stage: Keep the team as small and nimble as possible. Force prioritization and hire people who are willing to pitch in and flex to different needs. You are going to need the most nimble crew you can have because the company’s priorities will likely be changing
  • When you’re at a large company or very late stage: Shift to specialization and very clear roles and responsibilities. Whereas at small you want the borders to be grey. At large, you want the borders to be very clear. That allows each specialist to create best in class programs for their area.
  • It’s better to do fewer things and have ruthlessly prioritize than to hire a bunch of people and start to have bloat which leads to lower ROI for the org

Hey Shanee B. (Crunchbase) thanks for all the replies here:) very insightful. My question: we want to pivot from our main product and launch a self-service product based on the same technology. I’m thinking about creating a separate website, but what’s your take on the marketing strategy around pivoting? Should we create a separate landing page, what steps would you take if you’re making a pivot and creating a self-service product?

If you have built up some name brand equity I would not choose a different website. I would repurpose the existing site as you likely already have some strength there. Otherwise you really have to start from scratch + you run the risk of creating both market and search engine confusion. I’m sure I’m missing out on important nuances to the question, but that would be my gut instinct.You could, prior to changing the parent website, test out a landing page that you take certain audiences to (i.e. a/b test). But I wouldn’t make the strategy to build a whole new property. The exception would be if you have a COMPLETELY different audience you’ll be targeting and the product is COMPLETELY different too. But if there are even tenuous connections, I say build on what you have, keep that equity.

Great questions everyone! You’re really making me think!

Thanks, everyone for all of your awesome questions, and to Shanee B. (Crunchbase) for taking all of that time to offer detailed and super helpful responses! We loved having you here!

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