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Hi there, Growth Hackers!

I’m John. I work for a company called Databox, where we’re on a mission to make performance insights more accessible to everyone on your team. (We recently surpassed $1M in ARR!)

I lead our marketing efforts and am responsible for overall traffic and lead generation, user acquisition, paid activation, and lead co-marketing initiatives, too.

A big part of our mission from a marketing standpoint is to make data, and more specifically performance insights, more fun for everybody. It’s too clinical everywhere else. We do that with a focus around brand, content, and product onboarding and usability.

Here’s just a slice of what we’re building.

In the past I led growth at Litmus, where I helped introduce a growth discipline to the company, develop hypotheses for growing key metrics in these areas, and ultimately improve conversions and net billings as a result.

I live about 2 hours south of Boston in central Connecticut with my wife and two boys. I love to mountain bike, run, and am a stellar basement guitar player.

Follow me on Twitter @Bonini84.

I will be live on June 26 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which I will answer as many questions as possible.

  • WB

    Wes Bush

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey @johnbonini, I love what you're up to at Databox and helping people make their metrics more actionable and WAY easier to manage. I'm curious. How do you primarily acquire your freemium users? I know when I talked with Pete last your team had been doing a lot of partnering with agencies and creating dashboards where both parties would share the leads but I'm super curious to learn more about the biggest drivers of growth for your business.

    Also, what is your team's process look like for improving your signup to paid conversion rate? Is it a weekly, monthly, or quarterly initiative? At this point, do you have someone responsible for improving this outcome or do you have a growth team responsible for improving the signup to paid conversion rate?

    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      Wes!

      Thanks for the question.

      1. In these "early" days. we're primarily a content-driven organization. We've also learned a ton about the way people prefer to track performance and the barriers that prevent them from doing so in the way they'd like. We've learned that, when visualizing and making sense of data, people want a fast and easy way to get started.

      If they didn't, they'd bury themselves in spreadsheets and slides all day. So, in early 2017 we launched pre-made reporting templates, wherein new users could connect their Google Analytics account and visualize all of their performance data in seconds. For free.

      We've created a lot of them, but as you mentioned, we also partnered with Databox Partners to expand the POV and publish dashboards from practitioners. Publishing content that aligns well with these templates has allowed us to be tighter as a team in terms of aligning content with product. This has been huge.

      2. Improving signup:paid, like most of our other organizational goals, is a monthly initiative. It's also one that requires both marketing and product to "reach across the aisle" to collaborate on initiatives and experiments that can influence the number.

      A couple of things we've tried in the last few months that have helped:
      - More educational, tutorial-driven email nurturing that features videos in an effort to help new users adopt key features more quickly.
      - Launching a tiered certification program in the app, which has helped new users identify the features they should get started using first, and also introduced an element of gamifcation in order to get users deeper into the product and to the "aha moment."
      - Testing different onboarding screens. We've done a lot of testing around the first mile of the product, and one we've seen some positive response to recently has been around giving new users more choices in how they'd like to connect their data. Previously, we required all new users to connect their data via the aforementioned templates. Now, we allow them to "Start from a data source, start from a template, or start from scratch."

      We're actually still testing this, but we've seen a really positive response to the "choose your own adventure" approach so far.

      5 Share
  • JB

    John Bonini

    over 1 year ago #

    Growth Hackers!

    Excited to be here.

    I admire this community so much and often look here for advice, so it's an honor to be able to share whatever I can here today.

    In case you're wondering, here's what I'm listening to right now to get hyped: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7D_JwgIM-y4

    "Can I kick it?"

    6 Share
  • AB

    Alli Blum

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey John! Thanks for popping in to answer some questions about Databox -- here are mine:

    1. To add to some of the great onboarding questions Wes and Dani asked, what do you observe about the folks who upgrade to a paid plan vs. those who don't? Do they behave differently? Do they show up with a different set of problems to solve? Do they have different levels of buy-in from their teammates?

    2. How does a team so driven by quantitative data manage qualitative data? How do you get and organize customer feedback and research? How does information (raw voice-of-customer data and/or summary reports) flow from team to team? How does Databox approach the process of getting to know your customers and prospects as well as their problems and goals?

    Thanks again!

    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      Thanks for the questions, Alli!

      1. People that upgrade to a paid plan typically have a better idea of the specific metrics they need to track/visualize. In those cases, setup tends to be quicker, they're able to get deeper into the product, and most importantly, they experience the "aha moment" quicker.

      These are the users that show up and tell us, "I'm just looking a way to measure the effectiveness of our content", or "I need to put together a dashboard tracking the effectiveness of all of our paid ad campaigns."

      Many people come to us not really knowing which metrics they're supposed to track, or maybe have never visualized their data and/or set goals before. That's obviously a challenge for us, and one that requires collaboration across the board–product, marketing, support–to solve.

  • VG

    Val Geisler

    over 1 year ago #

    Hi John! Big fan of your work at both Litmus and Databox. I'd love to hear how you think about churned customers. What do you at Databox do to win back freemium customers who signed up once but never took action? Or do you not worry about those customers? Do you send surveys, do interviews, or try anything else that helps you understand why the customer never converted to using the product and (better yet) become a paying customer?

    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi Val!

      Great to connect. Thanks for the question : )

      Absolutely. Churn is one of our "Company Top 10" goals. However, our focus there is more on paid churn rather than on freemium activation. We view these as two separate, yet equally important initiatives.

      In terms of freemium "activation" (the term we use to define a free user connecting data and using the product), we actually see a high percentage of users that sign up for Databox connect their data. We've focused heavily on moving these users deeper into the product through both email + product nurturing as well as an in-app certification program that helps users determine next steps, see the additional value, etc.

      For the percentage of users that do *not* activate, we've identified the 3-5 reasons why this happens. They either:

      1. Don't have login credentials to connect their data
      2. Can't find the data source they're looking for
      3. Don't know how to connect their data
      4. Have concerns about the security of their data

      So, we implement lead nurturing to any user that does not connect their data that shares resources and further information that addresses all of these concerns. We see a pretty decent response rate from those messages.

      4 Share
  • PB

    Plamen Barzev

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey John,

    It may sound a little creepy, but in the last month yours is the first voice I hear every morning. The "Ground Up" makes the walking to my office very, very exciting. Thank you for that!

    I have two quick questions:

    1) How did you end up doing marketing and what you wanted to do as a kid?
    2) How do you prioritize your marketing activities if you don't have enough (or good) data?

    Cheers!

    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi, Plamen!

      I appreciate the connection. Thanks for listening/reading.

      1. First, I wanted to be a professional basketball player as a kid. I topped out at 6'0" and my vertical is garbage, so you can imagine how that turned out : D

      How did I get into marketing? Truth be told I went to school for journalism. Writing, and more specifically, telling stories has always been a passion of mine.

      However, after reading Seth Godin and David Ogilvy long ago, I became more interested in helping brands tell those stories. Couple that with the shift toward content (written, video, audio) and the landscape is ripe for anyone with a communications degree these days.

      It's my belief that some of the strongest marketers, and most certainly content marketers, were/are writers first and marketers second. The latter can be taught, the former, in my opinion, must be "learned."

      When it's reversed, you can certainly see the difference.

      5 Share
  • RB

    Remington Begg

    over 1 year ago #

    When you are considering concepts to go after to leverage growth. When do you reset, or how do you push yourself/your team to think outside of the "box".

    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      Remington! My man...

      (Big fan of Impulse Creative. If you all don't know, now you know. Check 'em out.)

      Thanks for the question. It's a good one.

      I've always found that the most productive way for finding new ideas or innovating on current initiatives is to implement and work within some limitations. It sounds counter to the spirit of it, but it's easy to get in the clouds when you're asking your team to come up with new ideas.

      However, when we identify specific areas of growth, i.e. expanding the reach of the content we publish, improving the # of users that connect a data source, etc., it's a lot easier for the team to identify the specific areas that influence success/performance.

      So, for us, like most things, it's about focus. Which areas of growth are our greatest opportunities right now, and where are the key levers within those areas that we can implement/influence in order to improve.

      It goes without saying, but we quantify goals in all of these areas, so it's a lot easier for us to back into the activities and performance needed in order to hit them.

      2 Share
  • MB

    Madhav Bhandari

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey @johnbonini, thanks for doing the AMA! Is Databox's marketing team 100% remote? If yes, what were your first set of challenges when building a remote marketing team?

    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi Madhav,

      Thanks for the question!

      We're hybrid. Our engineering team is based in Slovenia, which is where our founder is from originally.

      Here in the U.S., we're mostly based in the northeast, with most of our team located in Boston, and myself in CT., and Tory (agency support + onboarding) in Philly.

      For any remote team, the challenge is always learning that good communication at any other company you worked at is now average, or worse, poor.

      Overcommunication becomes important, not so people know what you're doing, but to ensure everyone is on the same page and that you also manufacture those moments of "serendipity" where ideas and friendships get made.

  • DH

    Dani Hart

    over 1 year ago #

    Hi John,

    Super excited to have you here for an AMA. A few questions...

    1. What's the biggest challenge teams face during onboarding with Databox?
    2. I see you have a partner marketplace. How much has that helped with growing adoption of Databox?
    3. If you could tell a team with data silos across their organization, running in different directions, to do 3 things, what would they be?

    Looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

    Cheers,
    Dani

    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      3. This one is easy.

      First, set goals. Most companies, in the absence of goals, are simply working toward month-over-month improvements. But you can see MoM improvement and still go out of business if you're actions aren't aligned with the results needed to grow and/or function profitably.

      Second, bring all of your data under one roof. (May I suggest Databox?) It's hard to know where you're headed when you need to log into 12 different apps (on average) to get an idea on how marketing, sales, support, the payment system, etc., is performing.

      Last, make improvements in real time. Most people reading this would probably say that they're "data-driven", however, most orgs are not. Most orgs think, "I have access to data, therefore I am data-driven."

      The analogy I like to use is that being data-driven is about being the steering wheel, not the gas/brake pedal. It's about making adjustments in real-time, not panicking to accelerate at the last minute.

      The only way you can do this is if you have an easy way to view all of your data within context.

      3 Share
    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi, Dani!

      Thanks for the question.

      1. Put simply, the biggest barrier for users is finding a way to visualize the data that they need. This challenge manifests itself in a few ways:

      - How do I find the specific metrics I need to track? This is a marketing+UX initiative, one that involves ensuring that the right information/expectations are set pre-sale on the website, as well as making the setup UX as easy and straightforward as possible.
      - I'm not sure which metrics I should be tracking: For this one, we've actually started publishing content that uses our own proprietary data to help users understand which metrics *other* orgs are tracking. (Benchmarking is a powerful way to provide clarity.)

      For example, if a user connects Google Analytics (our most popular integration for obvious reasons) we make sure to surface this article in nurturing + onboarding: https://databox.com/the-most-tracked-google-analytics-metrics

      2 Share
    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      2. Agencies, and more specifically our partner program, was our beachhead in going to market in 2017.

      Most orgs are tracking data from an average of 12 different tools. Now imagine agencies doing this for 30+ clients. The use case is strong.

      It'd be an understatement to say our partners have helped us grow. They've been our key growth channel to date. They create content on their websites about using Databox, record podcasts, film videos, etc.

      This type of evangelism is hard to quantify and measure, but it's been a key reason why we've been able to exceed $1M ARR in such a short window.

      I've said this many times before, but partners can take your product/service much further than you can imagine. They hack the product, find infinite use cases, solve problems you didn't even knew existed, etc.

      Our partners are everything.

      2 Share
  • PS

    Parker Short

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey John, it's clear that Databox has a pretty good system for co-marketing in place. What are your thoughts on more companies embracing co-marketing? Good idea or uphill slog?

    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi, Parker.

      Thanks for the question!

      It depends. On a lot of things. Industry, size of company, etc.

      For SaaS companies, and for us, a partner program is a powerful growth lever as well as a natural extension (and selling point!) of our partners' businesses. When all those things work together, it's powerful.

      You've seen it with HubSpot (and others.) Now we're seeing something similar with Databox.

      When your product is a natural selling point for agencies, they're not only going to "sell" the product for you, but they're also going to market it, too. Write blog posts, film videos, record podcasts–this is massive in helping to educate and prime the market.

    • PC

      Peter Caputa

      over 1 year ago #

      I think every company should embrace content co-marketing.

      Early in my career, I joined a BNI group (Business Networking International). They helped me spread the word about my service and I did the same for them. We always kept our ear to the ground for each other and referred lots of business. That's where I learned about the power of the network.

      With the web, co-marketing is amplified. In an analog world, I have to wait for someone to have a conversation about us amongst many things they could choose to discuss. Online, once someone shares some content we contributed to (or published), 100s of people instantly hear about us.

      I think content co-marketing should be the first thing any small business does. You could try and get attention from Facebook and Google or you could collaborate with a few businesses that are about your size. Which one sounds easier?

      Like John said, Databox is a perfect co-marketing partner. Given our integrations with other SaaS products and all our agency partners, we are a great platform for them and we can benefit by being a hub.

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    over 1 year ago #

    Thanks for doing this AMA. What does your sales model look like for the business? Approx what percentage of customers buy without talking to a sales rep?

    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      Sean! Hope all is well, my friend.

      Thanks for the question.

      There are 2 sides of the business:
      1. Direct (we see a lot of SaaS and e-commerce co's here right now)
      2. Agencies/Partners

      The direct side of the business is 100% self-serve. We've worked really hard from a product, support, and marketing standpoint to create an experience that allows people to get up and going as quickly and easily as possible.

      Historically this is very hard in this space. Most tools (and content) around performance analytics are clinical and complicated to implement. Our mission is to make performance insights more accessible to everyone, which has forced us to focus on the self-serve side of the business.

      50% of our new customers come from this side of the business.

      On the agency/partner side, we have two people that work with inbound leads (users) to qualify their use case, educate them on best practices of the product, show them how other agencies have set up their accounts/dashboards, and get them deeper into the product.

      This was our "beachhead" in 2017. If you can imagine the complications most organizations have in tracking all of their data–agencies have these same problems for 10, 20, 30, 40 (or more) clients.

      As a result, we dedicate resources on the pre-sale side here in order to solve these problems effectively as well as get them seeing value as quickly as possible. (Agencies are largely focused on client accounts, so if we can help them level up on their internal tool set, it's a win for everyone.)

      2 Share
  • JF

    Javier Feldman

    over 1 year ago #

    Hi John, Thanks for doing this AMA!

    Does Databox have a north star metric? If so, what is it? If not, what do you track to know you're improving?

    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      @ Dani

      The point is more that "value to the user" looks different depending on where they are in their lifecycle.

      For a new user, value results in them finding the right combination of data sources + metrics in order to build their first dashboard and see the value in order to make a purchase decision. Therefore, "signup:paid", is a north star metric for marketing/product.

      However, for a user that's been using the product for a few weeks/months, active usage is a better indicator of ongoing value, which is a north star metric our product team tracks.

      So to answer your question, it actually helps make it easier to provide/measure value to the user.

      • PC

        Peter Caputa

        over 1 year ago #

        We do have a Goal that's most important to the Company: Net MRR. We then have a model and history data that we use to determine other goals that support that. With marketing and sales, it's real easy to determine the sub goals: we use our conversion rates to determine targets earlier in the funnel like: sessions, signups, sales meetings, PQLs. Of course, upgrades and churn factor into that model too.

        In some instances, we use history data to project what usage should be and when we run experiments, we guess how much we think can improve metrics by. For example, when we launched an update to a feature that is known to drive daily active usage, we bumped up our DAU target to see if we could hit it.

        We don't hit every goal we set, but we look at the numbers every month, discuss them and set another target for the following month. This gives us a way to hold the whole team accountable to getting things done and doing them well. It also gives us things to celebrate.

        As John mentioned above, by monitoring progress daily, it gives everyone the opportunity to adjust their plan so they can hit their goals. Every team meets every week to discuss the coming week's plan based on the current progress to goal. In some roles in sales and marketing, the team is tweaking things on a daily basis in order to hit targets.

        Even in situations where we can't adjust our plans daily or weekly, everyone is involved in the discussions of how we can hit important targets. We get the benefit of everyone's creativity since we're 100% transparent about the whole process and our achievement (or lack thereof) to every goal.

        I can't imagine managing a team of over-achievers in any other way.

    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi, Javier!

      Thanks for the question.

      One of the features in Databox we're most proud of is our Goals feature. And we actually have a "Company Top 10" of Goals that we set every single month and monitor every single day/week.

      In terms of a "north star" metric, each team has their own. And, it can evolve/shift as different areas of the funnel change, too.

      For example, for a long time on marketing, our north star metric was signup:paid. We're doing a high volume of signups at the top-of-the-funnel, and our key success measure was in seeing how efficiently we were motivating a paid activation.

      However, as we improved this area of the funnel, the key area of growth *then* become adding more users to the top, therefore acquisition, in the form of sessions/signups, then became our north star.

      So, in short:
      1. Each team has its own north star. (Marketing = signup:paid, Product = DAU, etc.)
      2. As specific areas of the funnel improve and/or reach efficiency, this metric evolves, too.

      • DH

        Dani Hart

        over 1 year ago #

        If every team has their own North Star Metric, is it ever hard to get company alignment on how the customer receives value? Or does knowing the company 10 help align everyone?

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey John - very cool to finally have you on!

    1a. What has been the biggest driver of growth to 1M ARR (woot!)?
    1b. What signal(s) told you that driver of growth was going to be move the needle meaningfully?

    2. If you had to predict where the next 1M ARR would come from, what would you say - and why?

    1 Share
    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi, Anuj!

      Thanks for *finally* having me ; )

      Seriously, thanks for all your help. This is a blast.

      1a: Our biggest driver of growth, from a marketing perspective, has been a combination of content + partner c-marketing, For us, the two have been very closely aligned. In working with a tight-knit partner community, we've been able to deliver value that lives outside of the product while also amplifying our content/message/mission in a way that simply wouldn't have been possible if we only relied on our internal resources.

      1b: We're the biggest users of Databox. (We have to be, right?) So, all of our performance is in one place, and we've been able to easily draw a correlation between the activites we do and the results we see. Because of that, we're able to look at metrics others would view as "vanity" and derive a lot of insight from them.

      So, new sessions is a really strong signal for us, as we have the context to easily visualize how sessions convert into product users (~5%, which is really high, mostly due to our pre-configured, free templates) and from there, how signups convert into paying customers.

      So we know, to a high degree of confidence, that if we tweak any area of that funnel by a certain %, the rest will follow suit. From there, it's really about prioritizing the right area and subsequent activities.

      2 Share
    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      2. Woo, good question. I think we'll need to continue to:

      - Grow acquisition without adding much overhead. We're currently building out an affiliate program and have some really exciting folks on board, and this will help us expand the reach/influence of our content and overall message.

      - Zero in on our next "target" customer. As mentioned previously, our beachhead in going to market was agencies. This hyperfocus allowed us to grow quickly, and I think we'll need to find where that next gap in the market is. It could be e-commerce, it could be SaaS, or, it could be more driven by the specific use case companies have, i.e. SEO, content attribution, etc.

  • PH

    Patrick Hodgdon

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey John 👋, thanks for AMAing today!

    Big fan of the marketing machine you guys are building over there at Databox, congrats on the ARR milestone too!

    My question: Any tips or strategies on the co-marketing and featuring guest blogging front that seems to be working well for you?

    • JB

      John Bonini

      over 1 year ago #

      Sup P3!

      Thanks for the question.

      I think the most important thing is creating a platform that's mutually beneficial for both parties. This sounds simple, but it's the part that most organizations, and guest bloggers, get wrong.

      It's either:

      - The org wants guest posters to help fill their editorial calendars and drive traffic, or
      - The guest blogger wants exposure and/or a bigger platform to promote their business

      It's rare that one party is considering the other's interests.

      So, we've implemented measures that get our partners in front of our direct users. This requires us to:

      1. Align with our partners/guest bloggers to ensure what they're writing about aligns well with the challenges our users have.
      2. Identify the right channels (email newsletters, in-app messaging, etc.) for getting that content in front of the right people.

      It's really a "servant marketing" mindset. It requires flipping the mindset from, "how can I leverage partners/guest bloggers to drive more traffic" to "how can I drive the most value and/or business to our partners and/or guest bloggers?"

      When we get it right, there's nothing better.

      I wrote about a few examples here: https://databox.com/drive-more-traffic-qualified-leads-and-business

      4 Share

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