Creating Growth Machines: Lessons From Two Distinct And Disruptive Marketing VPs

on Content Marketing

The contrast between two marketing VPs speaking at the two-day Growthbeat marketing conference in San Francisco, CA August 17 couldn’t have been more clear — at least at first glance.

One, barely in his 30s, supports growth at the fastest-growing SaaS company ever — a company barely two years old and already worth $4.5 billion: Zenefits. The other, with a storied career and likely in his late 40s, oversees marketing for a 119-year-old, trillion-dollar Japanese motor sports company: Kawasaki.

One thing ties the two together, which was uncovered during the disruption-themed discussion.

Turns out, both brand marketers got their start in the same place: selling ads for their college newspapers.

Matt Epstein, VP of Marketing at Zenefits, shared the PG version of a not so safe for work story about not being able to land a sale the first two months on the job. Until he sold a full-page spread — of Halloween costumes, that is — to an adult toys manufacturer for $60,000 in a 3-month deal.

Now that he's not selling ads, he's buying them, and lots of them. What for? Demand generation and lots of it, for the single purpose of convincing companies to use Zenefits’ HR software.

"We took every single lever known to man," Epstein told the audience. “[We're] a small group of people working very fast on big things and making a whole lot of mistakes along the way.”

Epstein’s growth approach with his marketing team has been to try everything and double down on whatever they think could deliver a 10x return.

"Anything less than a hockey stick is unacceptable," Epstein explained.

Sounds about right for a startup that has been on a tear over the last year, gobbling up $500 million in funding, which included two investments from Andreessen Horowitz in six months. Projected revenue for the Series C startup this year is $100 million.

Brull, on the other hand, described Kawasaki's approach as moving away from "spray and pray" methods like TV advertising, and instead opting to reach customer demographics wherever they are, be it Snapchat for the "18-year-old hopped up on Monster" energy drink or, say, email for the "four-wheel camo crowd" of hunters, farmers and fishers.

“[You] gotta know the customer; gotta know what fires them up,” Brull said.

Both VPs acknowledged the overwhelming amount of tools a modern marketer has at his or her disposal.

Staying true to their generational differences, Epstein called them "weapons of mass distribution" while Brull referred to it as "a big ole toolbox."