In this episode of Secrets for Scaling, we chatted with Oli Gardner, Co-Founder of Unbounce - a landing page and conversion marketing platform. The software allows marketers to quickly create, launch, and test high-converting landing pages and website overlays without developers.

Based in Vancouver, BC, Unbounce has helped marketers and digital agencies increase website and campaign conversions since 2009. They’re currently investing heavily in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) in their move towards becoming a conversion automation platform. Here’s what they look like today:

  • Founder experience: 8 years
  • Team size: 180 team members
  • Customers / Revenue: $17 million in ARR
  • Company founded: 2009 (almost 8 years old)
  • Business model: SaaS

Oli talked to us about the future of AI and machine learning in marketing, the top mistakes he sees founders make, the early marketing decisions that led to their success today, and more. Listen to the full episode below!

Episode highlights

Be a pioneer in an awareness channel. Unbounce was a pioneer in content marketing in 2009. They blogged a ton about landing pages and leveraged larger communities and popular blogs. By creating a giant piece of valuable content on the Moz blog, Oli positioned himself and Unbounce as a market leader soon after launch. If you want to make a splash, go big and go different from everyone else, especially when experimenting with new channels.

Choose smart integration partners for early growth. Unbounce looked at every marketing technology platform they could logically integrate with, such as CRMs and email marketing software. They used Alexa and to see which had 4x, 10x their traffic. They then focused on building relationships with those with a high level of potential growth, added value for their customers, and alignment with their value system.

Hire people who will create or influence the culture and values you want to see. Oli says much of their early success was due to hiring amazing people. And because they hired customer support people who truly care about their customers and product, they score a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 90 -- higher than Apple’s!

Use your application process to filter out the people who don’t care. Unbounce tears up any resumes. Instead, they ask candidates to create landing pages explaining why they want to work for Unbounce and why they should be hired. This filters out people who don’t care about who they work for and are applying in mass. It also means they have to get into the product and engage with early touchpoints with the brand. And it allows the most creative candidates to stand out.

Your metrics have to evolve. In the first few years, Unbounce focused on new trial starts (NTS) - people who sign up for a trial with their credit card info. Oli says “but that has to evolve.” No matter what metric they're focused on for whatever phase they’re in, their goal has always been to focus on the lifetime value of a customer.

Analyze behavior to design a product for your ideal customers. Oli says, “It’s more than just numbers, it’s the who behind those numbers - who are they and what do they need to be successful?” That's why Unbounce analyzes the behavioral data behind their customers with the highest LTV. Their findings often relate to the integrations they’re using. If their highest value customers are using their Salesforce integration, they highlight that in their marketing to attract similar customers.

Price for your ideal customers. Unbounce has done away with their lowest pricing tier three times. Perception is important, and they’ve had enterprise companies tell them that their product was “too cheap.” The result of focusing on their more expensive plans is a customer base with higher value and greater retention.

Your core values will drive employee behavior. Unbounce’s core value system keeps the team aligned with their vision. And the structure helps them make smarter decisions. For example, because one of the company's core values is to be bold, team members are more comfortable doing something that might be a bit risky.

Send employment engagement surveys and pay attention to the results. Unbounce sends employee surveys every six months. They don’t just analyze the results, they take action on them. This is a big part of being a people-centric company.

Build your core values into your algorithms. Oli says that one of the most interesting components of AI and machine learning will be the ability to program your core values into the system. So if a bot is answering your customer support inquiries, you can incorporate delight into its messages, for example.

Authenticity can suffer as you scale. Oli says this is especially true on social media and in customer communications. He added, “Remember that if you have that connection with your customers, then you lose it, you’re letting people down. They’re going to go to your competitors because it feels like you’re putting money before people. And that’s not the right way to do it; one takes care of the other.”

Don’t just listen to your customers, make change. To help maintain their authenticity, Unbounce has an experts community group who they meet with via video every two weeks. They listen to their feedback and drive decisions in the direction of their most ideal customers' needs.

Have an advisory board to keep you in check. Another way to maintain your authenticity is to ask for help and advice through others who have been through it. Oli recommends an advisory board and bringing on senior leadership sooner rather than later. He added, “Having those sounding boards and those people X years ahead of you on a similar journey can avoid a lot of mistakes just by answering questions.”

At the 75-person mark, scale your leadership team before mass hiring. At 75 people, you might think hiring a bunch of people will help, but it won’t. Oli says you have to get your leadership team in place or else it will become unmanageable. “If you’re going fast, the amount of people you have to onboard takes away from people trying to do the actual work. If you don’t have enough people in management, it’s going to suck up your time, which isn’t beneficial to anyone.” He advises, “reach out to three founders of similar businesses - ask for help and really really pay close attention to what they say.”