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Mike Osborn serves as Chief Marketing Officer of Upstart, a lending platform that goes beyond the FICO score to finance people based on signals of their potential, including schools attended, area of study, academic performance, and work history. He oversees Upstart’s marketing team (they're hiring!), responsible for accelerating the company’s tremendous growth.

Prior to Upstart, Mike worked as Head of Growth Marketing at Uber, responsible for all digital and offline marketing, as well as product management of Uber’s adtech and consumer promotions platform.  Before that, Mike was SVP of Marketing & Analytics at HomeAway where he oversaw brand and performance marketing, sales and marketing operations, BI and analytics, and the advertising revenue line of business.  Prior to HomeAway, Mike served as VP of Marketing at Metaweb, which was acquired by Google.  Mike previously spent five years at eBay where he took on increasing levels of responsibility in the marketing organization, building and leading the marketing teams that managed eBay’s paid search, affiliate, email, and onsite marketing.  He started his career with time at Openwave Systems in Corporate Development and in Corporate Strategic Planning at The Walt Disney Company.

Mike earned a BA in Quantitative Economics at Stanford University in 1994 and an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2001.

Mike will also be speaking at The GrowthHackers Conference coming up next month.

Mike will be live on January 7th 2016 for ninety minutes, and he is excited to answer as many of your questions as possible.

  • MO

    Mike Osborn

    10 months ago #

    Good morning, everyone! Really excited to get to your questions.

    First, in the spirit of the New Year, I thought I'd share two resolutions, one financial, and one growth/professional. My financial resolution for 2016 is to help my kids make their first investments. We have them save 1/3 of their allowance each week (in a savings account) and now that they appreciate the value of putting money away and seeing it grow, we want them to learn about other investment options and ways to assess what kind of investment is right for them and their risk tolerance. For my growth resolution, I am excited to lead the Upstart team to create a genuine community of borrowers who publicly celebrate becoming financially fit (financial hacking) as much as they celebrate becoming physically fit or coming up with the best travel hacks.

    Hope you've made your resolutions for the year, and best of luck in executing them flawlessly!

    Now on to your questions...

  • MO

    Mike Osborn

    10 months ago #

    Everyone, I just noticed that it's 11:05am. I'm so appreciative of the great engagement on this AMA. I'll try to answer some more questions in my spare time. And I hope to see some (or all!) of you at the Growth Hackers conference later this quarter.

    Thanks to Sean and Anuj for inviting me. You guys have an amazing and passionate community, and I'm honored to be a part of it.

    One shameless plug - we're hiring! If you know of super smart, multi-sport athletes who want to build one of the best growth teams in the world, please point them my way.

    Thanks again,

  • LS

    Logan Stoneman

    10 months ago #

    Mike! Thanks for your time today. I'm a huge reader and have often come across "quake books"; books that fundamentally change my ways of thinking. With such a diverse skill set as yours and incredible experience, are there any books that you can point back to that helped propel you to where you are today?

    • MO

      Mike Osborn

      10 months ago #

      Logan, good morning and thanks for the question.

      I am an avid reader, but I'll try to keep my answer concise.

      I am currently about 75% done with Peter Daboll's ADitude, and very inspired by it. Maybe it's recency bias, but I'm finding Peter's ability to apply similar levels of data rigor to the creative process refreshing and much needed.

      One of the seminal books that shaped my perspective on growth was Freakonomics. I know it's a bit cliche (and there were no shortage of questionable methodologies), but I was greatly impacted by the "take nothing for granted" mentality. Could be that I'm an ENTP and love to play devil's advocate...

      Finally, I find that reading about non-work topics is really powerful - it both recharges me, and it allows me to bring other perspectives to my work. Plus, you can't be very good at consumer marketing and product if you don't know pop culture...

      7 Share
      • LS

        Logan Stoneman

        10 months ago #

        Hey Mike, awesome perspectives here! I haven't gotten around to Freakonomics, so i'll put it on the list.

        Much appreciated for your time this AM!

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    10 months ago #

    Hey Mike, thanks a lot for doing this AMA and also for speaking at the GrowthHackers Conference. I'm curious what you think the impact of eBay was in the movement toward growth teams across Silicon Valley. My understanding was that Alex Shultz (head of growth at Facebook) essentially "invented" the growth team based on the tactics and process used at eBay. I have three questions related to this...
    1) Do you think this is true and if so, what were the most important things that eBay pioneered?
    2) How different do you feel like the overall approach to growth at Uber was to what you guys did at eBay?
    3) And finally, what do you think are the unique pressures at network effect businesses that put them at the center of all of this growth innovation?

    • MO

      Mike Osborn

      10 months ago #


      Thanks so much for having me!

      And love the shout out for Alex. He is one of my favorite people in the world, but I can't share any dirt, as that would be mutually assured destruction. :)

      It's absolutely true that Alex took the eBay model, and improved upon it. History clearly demonstrates his success at that! To me, the most important things we pioneered at eBay:
      (1) Co-located, cross functional teams with common objectives. It was a very provocative assertion at eBay in the early 00s, and was originally tested in our team for a short period of time. It worked so well that it has become a common organizational structure around the Valley.
      (2) Obsession with driving efficiency of spend, not obsession with size of budgets. We made spend decisions very simply (is the marginal revenue of the next unit of activity on a particular channel equal to the marginal cost of the next unit of that activity) and without interference from stakeholders like category managers. If we could make more than a dollar by investing a dollar in an action, we did it.
      (3) Hiring really smart, really ambitious people, and don't worry about experience. Growth and digital marketing are very young disciplines, and I'll always take a bunch of thoroughbreds with no bad habits. I think Alex (whom we first brought on from college) would agree!
      (4) We insisted on profitable growth, not growth at any cost.

      On your second, the Uber growth perspective was fairly similar, with a couple of key differences. At eBay, we didn't have a huge product orientation, beyond front doors like landing pages and signup flows. Uber's growth team is first and foremost product, and appropriately so. Usually the biggest hindrances to growth come from obstructions in the product process, and eBay probably wouldn't have abdicated their leadership position in eCommerce if they hadn't kept Product so siloed.

      On the third part of your question, you can tell that I love network effect businesses/two sided marketplaces. Upstart is my fourth! While every business claims to be data driven and analytical, two sided marketplaces have the additional complexity of needing to think about where the value is created - do suppliers attract more demand, or does more demand drive growth of supply, or somewhere in between? One needs the most amazing discipline around data and understanding consumers to make the right tradeoffs across the supply and demand constituents.

      Thanks again, Sean!

      8 Share
  • ES

    Edward Stephens

    10 months ago #

    Hey Mike,

    Thanks so much for doing this AMA. Really exciting to have you on.......!

    I have 2 questions I think.

    1) Whilst spearheading growth at Uber how do disaster events, negative press etc impact growth (good or bad) and how are they generally handled by the Growth and Marketing team?

    2) Also Uber swept into the UK (where i'm from) along with AirBnb in a way we haven't really seen US tech companies perform before. How hard and how crucial is expansion into the UK/Europe for venture back US start-ups? What challenges do you think this poses if any to growth teams.

    • MO

      Mike Osborn

      10 months ago #

      Edward, welcome. Hope the UK weather is treating you okay. It's rainy here in Northern California, but probably a touch warmer. :)

      For your first question, the impact of disaster events greatly differs. I think Uber has demonstrated the hackneyed cliche of 'no press is bad press.' When the Paris taxi riots occurred earlier this year, we jumped overnight from 10+ on Apple's app store to #2. The taxi drivers singlehandedly drove more rider acquisition than any paid channel could accomplish in a cost effective way. So, in a completely amoral way, it helped growth.

      But obviously many of us at Uber were deeply troubled by seeing our customers (both drivers and riders) getting hassled (and even attacked) by taxi thugs.

      We had a similar dichotomy at eBay - when the space shuttle exploded, locals were listing pieces of the shuttle from their yards within minutes of the explosion. While we got tremendous amounts of press (and caused many people to try eBay for the first time), it was dismaying to see our platform be exploited by vultures like that.

      In each of these cases, the ideal we strove for was, at minimum, to do no harm. Within minutes of the Paris riots starting, we were in contact with the GMs of the French businesses and we pulled down their outbound advertising.

      If possible, we try to help out the people negatively impacted by the crisis. At HomeAway during the Gulf oil spill of a few years ago, we hustled to help travelers find another accommodation for their spring break trip, and we helped homeowners to salvage some of their seasonal earnings by offering (discounted) homes to rescue workers who descended to the Gulf from around the globe.

      I personally find that having a true north about 'what is the human thing to do' works best. Having a conscience may mean passing up an opportunity to drive a little more growth and save/exceed my quarterly goals, but if you want to build a long term, sustainable business, do the right thing by the customers and they won't forget it.

      As for your second question, geographic expansion is both challenging and crucial for US venture backed start ups. In Uber's case, the inefficiency of, and dissatisfaction with taxis, in the US is trivial compared to the transportation inefficiencies in countries like India. Not to mention, of course, the market sizes.

      But it's also incredibly challenging to expand geographically. Product needs are different (India growth was brutal until the growth team built a cash product specifically for India and other third world markets with low credit card utilization). A US only business like Lyft doesn't need to split their efforts to embrace regional specific product features like that. Expansion greatly increases the organizational complexity and challenge of keeping everyone involved to impact key prioritization decisions. From a marketing standpoint, maintaining global consistency while speaking to highly varied value propositions is a big challenge.

      A good growth team in a global company can't just staff at HQ. They need at least a small portion of their team close to the local markets. Easy if you're in five markets, much harder in 60 or 100 markets. You need very robust process around prioritization, reporting, localization of product and marketing, etc. But first and foremost, you have to strive constantly for finding the 80% that is common across the markets and build most of your strategy around those common truths, as those can scale much more effectively than if you approach every market in a bespoke manner.

      6 Share
      • ES

        Edward Stephens

        10 months ago #

        Thank you so much for this response Mike - absolutely loved it. Thank you for such an honest insight into both.

        I had a very interesting experience with the Lyft/Uber debate this Christmas whilst I was in Miami. I imagine you are super busy so won't go into it now!

        P.S. The weather here is predictably mediocre...some things never change!

      • SJ

        Sebastian Johansson

        9 months ago #

        "But first and foremost, you have to strive constantly for finding the 80% that is common across the markets and build most of your strategy around those common truths, as those can scale much more effectively than if you approach every market in a bespoke manner."

        Great one.

  • DL

    Dylan La Com

    10 months ago #

    Hey Mike, thanks for being here today.

    I'd love to hear some notable experiences from your time working at Uber. What was it like working on the growth team? Was it highly process-driven, or was the environment largely chaotic?

    Thanks for sharing!

  • LL

    Lucas Lupatini

    10 months ago #

    Hey Mike, thanks for doing this AMA.

    How would you approach early acquisition in a marketplace-like company so that neither businesses nor users get frustrated with the absence of the other at early stages?


  • YK

    Yannis Karagiannidis

    10 months ago #

    Hi Mike, it's Yannis :)


    Do you believe it's possible to achieve virality on SaaS Finance products, at similar rates with Uber? If yes, which could be the key factors to achieve that? If no, which scalable traffic channels could fuel growth

    • MO

      Mike Osborn

      10 months ago #

      Yannis, good to hear from you again, my friend. Hope all is well in London!

      I think it's possible to achieve vitality in financial services. At the level of Uber? Probably not, at least in the very early days, simply because the geographic expansion of financial services is greatly hampered by very different and very strong regulatory regimes in every market. While Uber could enter a lot of markets where regulations didn't expressly forbid their offering, financial services regulations date back to usury laws and are very robustly written and enforced. The fixed cost of modifying your product to each of these regimes is prohibitive, at least in the early stage.

      Nonetheless, I believe that good fintech products can achieve vitality. Credit/debt and financial services more generally are very imposing and difficult for many people to understand. It's not that different from dieting - there are a million different sources that claim to have the 'one answer' for everyone, but most people don't know where to start.

      Borrowers who have gained financial fitness by shedding $10K of high cost debt are just as proud of their financial life hack as they are of the 30 pounds they shed by partnering with their trainer at the gym. When you read our reviews on CreditKarma, you can see how much we've impacted people - we've demystified the credit process, offered them rates substantially below their alternatives, and provided exceptional customer service by reviewing their application expeditiously (with funds in their hands 24 hours later!). That kind of advocacy that you see on CreditKarma (and our 70+ NPS score) provides the right environmental conditions for our borrowers to help us grow the business by celebrating their financial fitness with their social networks.

      As to how we'll do that, you'll have to wait and see. :)

      Having said that, we will also continue to expand on our paid efforts as well. Old school tactics like direct mail work really well in financial services. Online, Facebook provides a great way to target the right customer segments, lots of people search on Google when in financial dire straits, and aggregators like LendingTree and CreditKarma attract large audiences of people looking for credit products.

      Thanks again, Yannis, and let me know when you're next in the Bay Area!

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    10 months ago #

    Hey Mike - thanks for taking the time for this!

    From the perspective of someone who's had to take out loans to buy a car, I'd never considered the idea of considering an option that wasn't presented by the dealership or a financial institution I was familiar with.

    Is this behavior - where someone doesn't even think of something other than the known options a big challenge for Upstart?
    If yes, how are you thinking about inserting yourself into a decision-making process that may be already heavily biased towards relying on the habit of going with what you know?

    • MO

      Mike Osborn

      10 months ago #


      Great to see you here, and thanks for the question.

      You've identified the canonical challenge for disrupter brands. I've dealt with that challenge in past roles as well - e.g., the routinization of people looking for hotels even though they're 10/10 on NPS every time they stay in a vacation rental.

      In our case, it's not as big a challenge as that faced by many of our competitors. Why? Because we target Millenials and other disenfranchised customer segments who are very skeptical of the traditional (aka archaic) financial institutions. They're craving a product/brand that actually works for them, as opposed to one that's looking to expropriate as much value from them as possible.

      We don't and can't, however, take that for granted. We have to demonstrate clearly that we offer a better value proposition, and that it's tailored for them. With our tagline "You're more than your credit score," we can remind people that we look at them in totality - their education, their major, their job - not just looking at a FICO score that is a decades old methodology that predates machine learning.

      Changing consumer behavior is hard, but once you develop that trusted relationship (we're #1 on CreditKarma!), you've got an advocate for life and one to whom we can eventually offer other products to enhance financial fitness - first, get them out of crippling debt, then smarter spending, and eventually savings and investments.

      4 Share
  • HQ

    Hila Qu

    10 months ago #

    Hi Mike,

    Nice to have you here. I have two questions:

    1. You led the marketing/growth for both consumer tech companies and finance tech companies, in term of marketing/growth strategies, are there any differences? Any special aspects involved in doing marketing for consumer finance companies like Upstart?

    2. Can you talk about how you structure marketing/growth team in Upstart vs Uber vs Homeaway? Why so?

    • MO

      Mike Osborn

      10 months ago #

      Hila, thanks for the questions!

      On your first question, the differences are dwarfed by the similarities. Marketing a financial service to a consumer involves the same disciplines as marketing a vacation rental or a taxi service - know your customers and their motivations, have a value proposition that you can genuinely and succinctly communicate, identify the best/most cost effective channels in which you can find your target customers, and deliver really well designed/written communications that catch their attention and cause them to want to learn more.

      That's not to say that there aren't some key differences - the regulatory scrutiny of financial services ads/products (esp after 2008-9) are, to be polite, outdated. To be honest, they're absurd. It's not as bad as pharma, but IMO the regulations actually make it more imposing and difficult to understand than a more plain English approach.

      One other difference is that we're marketing a product that doesn't have the same level of repeat usage as a product like eBay or Uber. In fact, we *don't want* to have repeat customers on our existing product. Repeat usage today means that we and the borrower collectively failed on creating 'financial fitness' for that borrower. For an infrequent decision like borrowing from Upstart, we have to be really smart about identifying signals that highlight one's likelihood to need our product. That is, don't advertise to every recent college graduate, but ideally isolate and target (with relevant messaging) those who show evidence of a financial hindrance (like credit card balance) or those who are going through an important life event that might require some short term financial assistance (like getting married or relocating to a new city).

      As for structuring growth teams at various companies, again I think the similarities dwarf the differences. You won't succeed without a truly cross functional approach - engineers, marketers, designers, product managers, data scientists, all sitting alongside one another with shared objectives.

      To probe a bit deeper, I also advocate the platform and program org structure that's increasingly common in technology. Build platform teams for those functional areas that support the entire growth organization (e.g., content management system, analytics/attribution, copy writing). Build programs around the most important parts of the customer journey (e.g., at Upstart, that would be things like borrower on-boarding and services for the investors in our loans; at Uber, that would be things like rider acquisition, driver engagement, etc.). The platform teams build those capabilities that are shared by the various program teams. Programs and platforms are loosely coupled so that programs can move fast, but with the robustness and repeatability that comes from having platforms with enough scale to deliver best in class functional capabilities.

      Thanks again for the question, Hila!

      3 Share
      • HQ

        Hila Qu

        10 months ago #

        Thank you Mike for sharing, these answers really opened up new ways of thinking.

  • BM

    Brian Merlob

    10 months ago #

    How is your approach to growth different for services meant only to be used aperiodically vs. frequently? How does this change when your service is meant to be used by a fairly small/targeted group?

  • VM

    Vishal Maini

    10 months ago #

    What's the one growth experiment you've run that's proven to be the most wildly successful? What's one that you expected not to work that worked, and vice versa?

  • ER

    Eetu Raudas

    10 months ago #

    Hey Mike, really admire the kind of work you do at Upstart!

    I wanted to ask you for short advice for my new startup. We're building a two-sided marketplace, connecting small fashion brands to customers. We are currently signing up an initial pool of brands to bring content for our launch. We think that after we have a critical mass of brands, we should think about ways to bring in the customers and try to light up network effects. What would you do in this situation? Maybe allocate high focus on getting traction from brands, and try to make the first brands within the platform also customers, so they would purchase from other brands? (Eliminating the actual need for 2 separate segments, the chicken-egg challenge).

    Thanks if you manage to write a few lines of your thinking! I highly appreciate it! Enjoy your week :)

    - Eetu Raudas

  • HC


    10 months ago #

    Hi Mike, my team is developing a content aggregation application(news app) which adds value to an individual but how can we incentivize that person to create viral loop ?

    It will be my pleasure to hear from your side.

  • SS

    Sawaram Suthar

    10 months ago #

    Hey Mike,

    Welcome to AMA, great see you there.

    Your career path is so long and with vast experience in digital marketing. I am Head of Marketing at Tagove - a next generation live chat software to help businesses by using text chat, voice call and video call. Along with, we also offer co-browsing and screen sharing.

    So my question to you is, given that other known live chat options already exist in the market, if you were in my position, what growth hacking strategy would you adopt to spur acquisition? (we already engage in common activities like blogging, content marketing, social media marketing etc)

  • DV

    Daniel Villegas

    10 months ago #


    As a SaaS company when influencers have agreed that your software is going to be a good product fit and they can see the need for it yet don't adopt it themselves yet (too early) what would be your way of going to market? Lead gen + just putting it out there? Or continue to focus on levying a high level relationship to in turn get a lot more traction out the door. There's frustration from doing "one thing right" and having a big effect and just getting to market to begin to get data, feedback, revenue (albeit small) etc.

    Thanks Mike.

  • BW

    Brand Winnie

    10 months ago #

    Hey Mike. Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA.

    What is Upstart’s one metric that matters and why?

    • MO

      Mike Osborn

      10 months ago #

      Brand, welcome to the AMA and thanks for the question.

      We have one metric that matters most to our business, and one metric that matters most to our customers.

      For our customers, what matters most is how much they can save in their cost of debt. Our average borrower saves 30% compared to other lenders. For our average borrower, that saves them nearly two grand a year, and gets them out of debt months or even years faster than with alternatives. For a young graduate trying to make ends meet and get out from under credit card debt, that money means they can fund that vacation with friends, or it means they can go out with buddies for dinner without worrying about whether they'll have to 'split the bill.'

      For Upstart, we obsess over number of borrowers. We've been growing borrowers 10-20% MoM for the ~18 months since we launched our product, and we're looking for ways to accelerate that growth in a cost effective and repeatable way. As we look to diversify our product portfolio, we'll be able to offer smarter credit card products and eventually savings/investment products to those customers whom originally met us when they were struggling with more expensive debt.

      Thanks again, Brand!

      5 Share
      • HQ

        Hila Qu

        10 months ago #

        Great insight Mike!

        A follow up question: # of borrowers consist of new borrowers added and existing borrowers. Since you mentioned before, by nature you don't want too many "repeat borrowers", does that mean Upstart's marketing effort is more lining towards acquisition/activation vs. retention?

  • AH

    Agnes Haryuni

    10 months ago #

    Imagine you had sent tons of emails and approach influencers/publishers/website owners, suddently you webmail server crash. Your IT guy said you may or may not retrieve emails that people sent to you during the crash. What will you do?
    Are you gonna re-send all those emails again? What if those popular influencers feel disturbed with double emails from the same guy?

    • MO

      Mike Osborn

      10 months ago #

      Agnes, thanks for the question and so sorry to hear about the crash. All that buildup and anticipation, and... ugh. I can empathize; been there before.

      Assuming your IT guy confirms no email recovery, I'd take the risk and re-email them. But not the same exact one, I'd revise the message to explain the re-mail and show some humility. IMO, the influencers who would be inclined to help you/your business (many of whom have been in situations where they had to be scrappy) will be empathetic to your dilemma and will appreciate your candor. The ones who wouldn't have been inclined to help may be annoyed, but they'd have to be pretty damn spiteful to do anything that would hurt you. And if they're cut from that cloth, they probably aren't effective influencers anyway.

      To be clear, I'm not cavalier about carpet bombing people's inboxes, but if you explain the situation in a genuinely personal way, I think most people will understand and at worst will just ignore your second mail.

  • RT

    Roman Temkin

    9 months ago #

    Very very good insights here.

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