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Ellie is VP Marketing at Toast, a restaurant technology company focused on creating the best restaurant guest experience. Ellie leads a growing team across demand generation, product marketing, customer advocacy, branding, and content marketing. Since first launching in 2013, the company has grown to 250+ employees across 20+ states and thousands of restaurant customers across almost all 50 states.

Prior to Toast, Ellie held a variety of marketing leadership positions at HubSpot during its growth from 10 to 800 employees and 100 customers to successful IPO. Starting as the second marketer meant working in a variety of areas, but over her 7 years there, she kept coming back to the inbound lead generation team, working at the intersection of Marketing and Sales. She also took a detour to get closer to the Product team, working in product marketing, product management, customer development, and user research.

Ellie geeks out about pretty much all things marketing and startup, but especially: inbound lead generation, marketing analytics, sales and marketing alignment, team development, agile marketing, and SMB marketing.

You can follow her on Twitter: @ellieeille

She will be live on September 27 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which she will answer as many questions as possible

  • AH

    Agnes Haryuni

    8 months ago #

    Hey Ellie - an "interview" question for you.
    If u have to sell tacos in Mexico, what do you do? How would you promote/differentiate your business?

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      Great - and tough - question, Agnes! This is a big topic, so I'll simply share some initial ideas and places to start.

      Ultimately, differentiation as it relates to selling tacos in Mexico has to come down to either the product or the brand. The first step is to understand what differentiates you, as that will inform your promotion strategy.

      For example, if it's something about the product - perhaps instead of taco shells, you use waffles - that becomes the centerpiece of all of your promotion. If it's something about your brand - like the family history behind the company - then that's all you talk about in the promotion.

      Then it's a matter of getting the word out. PR can help a lot, as well as local grassroots efforts. But you need to know what your story is going into that process. With a food business, the local awareness matters a lot more than national coverage, so focus there. There are a lot of in-person efforts you could try, such as providing food at (or even organizing) local community events.

      • PS

        Praval Singh

        6 months ago #

        Fantastic answer! For most such businesses, what often works best is word-of-mouth. Using waffles instead of tacos and organizing food kiosks (trucks?) at community events are excellent examples of WOM marketing.

  • SA

    Shaker A

    8 months ago #

    Hey Ellie,

    1)How do think about retaining users, if your user only need to use your app occasionally by nature (ex shopping app)? If your app isn't used frequently building up the habit is hard, which makes it even harder to retain the user. How do you go about trying to stay top of mind so when the user has a need that your app solves they think of you?

    2)From your time at hubspot I gather that your big on inbound marketing. Going back to the example of the shopping app how would you look at using content marketing to build an audience and a user base. How would you look at figuring out what kind of content would attract, resonate and engage with the user base?

    3)How do you increase your chances of determining that a feature that you are thinking of building is of genuine value to the user vs just leading down the path to a more bloated product? Do you have a process for vetting features? Additionally as your product grows how do you make sure your product doesn't become bloated?

    Thanks

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      Thanks for the great questions, Shaker. I'll touch on both #1 and #2 because I think they go together. One great way to engage with users who don't regularly use your app is to have some content to share during that downtime. I think Stitch Fix does a nice job of this. They've honed in on what is both relevant to their product and interesting to their users - clothing trends - and continuously share that type of content in between shopping touchpoints. In a way, you need to treat that content like another product in the company's mix.

      To continue with the Stitch Fix example, they use their content to both engage with existing customers and attract new ones. Their use of Pinterest for this - multiple boards, continually adding new pins - can pull in new users, build on their network of users, and engage existing users.

      In terms of figuring out the right kind of content - partially this is proven out by publishing content and seeing how it performs (views, shares, etc.). But if you're just getting started, some ways to get ideas is to look at google search volume ("what are people looking for?"), other forums ("what are the questions on people's minds?"), and individual customer interviews (great for unstructured feedback that could answer questions you didn't even think to ask).

      4 Share
    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      In regards to product feature additions and keeping your product from getting bloated, there are two things that come to mind:

      1) Always push for simplicity first - it's a lot harder to simplify than to add complexity. If you start with the angle of simplicity first, you'll have more options in the future.

      2) Customer interviews - specifically interviews that help you get at the core of the customer pain or need. You may have customers saying, "I want this button to be blue!" but the reality is their actual pain is that they can't easily find the buttons they're looking for. There are a lot of possible solutions to the core customer need, and it's up to the product managers to figure out that customer need and identify the best solution.

      3 Share
  • RB

    Ry B

    8 months ago #

    Ellie,

    Thanks for doing this ama.

    1)How do you look at hiring? Can you talk about some of the mistakes you've made hiring (and also seen others make)? What have you learned about hiring A+ talents?

    2)What do you think are the top skills/traits that a manager needs to have to bring out the best in their employees?How do you go about empowering employees and what does that look at toast?

    3)What are the most valuable lessons you've learned in your career about growth and business in general?

    4)In your opinion what are things early stage startups have to do to not only survive, but thrive? Conversely what do you see startups messing up that they can't afford to, and how do they fix them?

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      I could spend all day answering your third question about growth/business lessons, so instead I'll share two of the bigger lessons that come to mind:

      Growth is painful (they do call them "growing pains...") but it's a healthy kind of pain.
      Growth relies on learning. Learning about the industry, your customer, yourself, and so much more. Real long term growth requires the ability to learn from and act upon your experience.

      4 Share
      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        8 months ago #

        "Growth is painful (they do call them "growing pains...") but it's a healthy kind of pain" <- Love this!

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      In terms of manager skills/traits, I think the best managers are those who empower their teams to be successful. This comes down to a few things, including:

      - removing blockers and distractions
      - providing feedback
      - teaching new skills
      - finding and pushing them into new opportunities
      - thinking ahead / long term to start to pave the way for the next thing for the team
      - building for team dynamic, not just individuals
      - leading by example

      Those are some of the things that initially come to mind. Interested to hear what others would add to that list.

      3 Share
      • PS

        Praval Singh

        6 months ago #

        One important thing here is - giving credit where it's due, and owning up when the team fails to deliver. Only a few leaders carry this trait.

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      Great question about hiring, Ry. It's a hard thing to do great, but I'll at least share some of the lessons I've learned.

      1) Keep the bar high, and wait for the right fit - when your team desperately needs more bandwidth, it's tempting to take the best candidate you can find rather than waiting for who is truly the best candidate for the role. Bad fits cause a lot more pain than an empty role, because it will pull the rest of the team down, and you'll likely end up back where you started, hiring for the role again. You waste time and bring down morale, sometimes even losing your best players.

      2) Hire for potential and growth - This point is very much skewed towards the type of organizations I've worked for, which are smaller and fast-growing. Larger, more established companies may not need this profile as much. But the best hires I've made have not always been the ones with the most experience, but rather the most potential. I want someone who is going to be able to learn and get better at their job over time, because that will make my life easier - being able to give them more and more responsibility - and I think is more rewarding for them too. To find this profile of a person, I often look for a track record of this type of growth in their past experience.

      3) Watch out for unconscious bias in all its forms - The tendency is to like people who are like you, and that can be extended to a lot of different factors. Even consider what school someone went to, or their hobbies - if you start to see some of yourself in the candidate, watch out for other assumptions you make about what that person will bring to the table. Related to that is to hire for diversity - because a range of experiences and perspectives helps you look at and solve problems in different ways.

      3 Share
    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      For early stage startups, I think there needs to be investment in:
      - people - hiring the best people who will help shape the company
      - understanding the customer pain - making sure you don't have a solution looking for a problem but rather that you've honed in on a problem and finding your way to the right solution

      Those are some core early things to focus on. I think there are plenty of companies who don't fully do those two pieces. Either making sacrifices on the hiring front or not fully thinking through what the customer problem is. Part of the latter point is putting yourself in a situation to do something worthwhile, and letting go of some ego and being willing to move away from your initial product idea. When you've truly built your company around solving a customer problem, then you have no problem pivoting and leaving behind any emotional attachment to your original idea.

      Those are the areas I mention because they are such large, direction-changing factors. Anything tactical, like what demand gen channels you try or what feature you build, can be learned from or adjusted. But not investing enough in the right people and understanding the customer pain can set you on the wrong path without you even realizing it.

      3 Share
      • AG

        Ashley Greene

        8 months ago #

        Love this, "Making sure you don't have a solution looking for a problem but rather that you've honed in on a problem and finding your way to the right solution." I see this a lot. Great point and great phrasing!

  • EM

    Ellie Mirman

    8 months ago #

    Thanks for all the questions! While the live AMA is over, I hope to come back and ask the remaining questions in the next day or so!

  • AA

    Aldin A

    8 months ago #

    Hi Ellie,

    Great to have you here at GH!

    1)There are a million things you could be working on growth at any one time. Can you talk about your process for figuring out the MOST important thing you have work on RIGHT now for growth? How do you make and prioritize your growth road map?

    2)What is your process for figuring out what channels you should focus on for customer acquisition? How do you evaluate them? How do you come up with a plan of action to attack that marketing channel? Do you have a process for evaluating channels, if so could you share said process?

    3)How do you think about scaling traffic growth? What changes for how you use a channel from when you first identify it's viability,to using the traffic channel at scale? What question do you ask yourself to make sure that the channels stays viable as you scale it up? What are the
    pitfalls to avoid as you scale a channel? How do you overcome said pitfalls? Do you have a process for scaling channels, could you share said process?

    Looking forward to learning from you!

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      Hi Aldin, great questions about prioritizing growth efforts. I think the answer can differ slightly depending on the stage of your company/funnel, but I do think there are three factors to consider when prioritizing:

      1. effort required
      2. potential impact
      3. lessons to be learned

      Any potential effort will rank differently on each - imagine you have three potential projects you could jump into:
      a) one is low effort, high impact, few lessons
      b) another is high effort, low impact, great learning opportunity
      c) another is low effort, low impact, great learning opportunity
      d) the last is high effort, high impact, great learning opportunity

      Depending on what constraints you're working with, you may choose a different project.
      - If you're at a very early stage, you might prioritize impact and learning (option d)
      - If you're behind on your goals, you'd likely prioritize impact over all else (option a)
      - If you're on a stable path but want to keep learning, perhaps you'll save 10% of your time on growth experiments to learn something new (option c)
      and so on.

      To give you a real life example, when I started in my current marketing role, we were doing very little marketing at all. Of course, I wanted to scale our customer acquisition efforts, but I didn't know what would work and what wouldn't. Sure, I had some success with certain channels and campaigns - but in a completely different market and time. I needed to see what would work for us. So we prioritized learning about all else. We tried a few different channels, and analyzed from there. We started doing tests within the channels that worked. We expanded to other channels as bandwidth freed up so we could see if those could be added to our portfolio. Some things surprised us - some things didn't work as well as I had seen them work in my previous job, some things worked so much better than I would have ever expected. The former channel (email marketing) was tabled. The latter channel (tradeshows) became a full time role and we doubled down.

      3 Share
    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      When I think of traffic, I immediately think of content. To me, scaling traffic is about (1) the content that garners that traffic and (2) how people find it.

      For #1 - that means you need to look at quantity and quality of content. Does creating more content result in getting more traffic? Is the type or topic the right content to attract who you want? Does quality play a bigger role in garnering more traffic?

      For #2 - that means testing/identifying new channels. Some channels I consider "passive", for example, search engines / SEO (you don't control when someone searches or how much). Some channels are "active", like email marketing (you control when and whom you email). The paranoid marketer in me is a fan of diversifying - I've been in situations where traffic was overwhelmingly tied to a single channel. But you can't control if that channel suddenly disappears, and what happens if it starts being less effective? You don't want to be caught without other tools in your toolbelt, so it's important to continuously test out new channels to find other opportunities, even if less effective than your primary source.

      The other pitfall I'd mention (other than not diversifying or thinking about both content and distribution) is not tying traffic to your bottom line goals. Unless you are a media company that makes money based on traffic / ad views, traffic is not your end game. And so you don't want to conflate more traffic with success unless you can directly tie more traffic to your ultimate goal, like customer acquisition.

      3 Share
  • MK

    Mike Killen

    8 months ago #

    Hi Ellie

    Thanks for taking our questions.

    Does Toast rely on email list growth methods to grow their lead database? Do you use lead magnet and newsletter sign ups?

    I'm curious to see how a POS system grows their lead list.

    Thanks!

    Mike

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      Oddly enough, Mike, email marketing is not a huge part of our lead generation program. Email marketing was a big part of my lead gen experience, so it was absolutely one of the first things we tried. But for our target audience, it just wasn't a great fit. (Note: we still do some email marketing, but it's not a focus for lead gen.)

      I mentioned in another comment that the "paranoid marketer" in me likes to diversify our lead gen channels, which means we have quite a few going at any given time. For example, we do some social media advertising, tradeshows, search engine optimization, and a lot more. All of those have been great for connecting with new prospects, both before and during their product search phase.

  • AA

    Austin Ahamba

    8 months ago #

    What's the best online resource(s) to keep up with restaurant management and technology?

  • PH

    Patrick Hardey

    8 months ago #

    Hello Ellie, thanks for stopping by for us! Your description mentions user research. What trends have you uncovered pertaining to the habits of customers in a given region and their interaction with the restaurant industry & what are some questions you wish you'd posed to uncover certain qualitative information?

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      I think the second part of your question is a great place to start - because my favorite user research questions are so open ended that they're barely questions at all. Open-ended questions like, "tell me about your typical day" can uncover so much that you wouldn't even think to ask about. You can see what the user brings up as notable, you can find out about details that might otherwise seem unimportant, you can ask judgment-free follow up questions so that you're never leading the witness to a particular answer. Those are the user conversations that I find most helpful. That, and actually seeing them in their workplace (in a b2b case). You can learn so much simply from observing the environment, things that wouldn't necessarily come up in a conversation because they are so normal or so much in the background.

      That is how I think you uncover differences among users. Making sure to do user research studies in different regions can help you determine if there are regional differences. Regional differences will likely affect some industries more than others. For us, regional differences, while they exist, are not the biggest differences among our users. Other factors - like industry experience, age, and role - are bigger factors in how a customer or potential customer interacts with us.

  • MM

    martín medina

    8 months ago #

    Ellie,

    Thanks for coming on here and doing this AMA today.

    What are some unique customers you guys at Toast have helped with your POS solutions? Any interesting stories?

    Where do you think the future of marketing is headed? Are there any trends you’re particularly paying attention to?

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      I have to say, Martin, it's the market and our customers that played a huge role in my own interest in Toast. The restaurant industry, while distinct in many ways, has a lot of diversity within it as well. Among other things, I've loved the personal side of learning about these small businesses. I still remember the husband and wife duo I met in Michigan scaling up their casual dining restaurant and the froyo shop owner from Florida who I met along with her newborn baby. You can get to know some of our customers through our case study videos here: https://pos.toasttab.com/reviews

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      In terms of trends, I think marketing is getting more integrated, more technical, and more creative.

      Integrated - this extends from all the talk on account-based marketing to the integration of marketing efforts with sales and other parts of company efforts.

      Technical - you see more and more data analyst and developer types in marketing now. When you need to pull off interactive content or a mobile marketing campaign or advanced search engine optimization, you need more of the technical skills within your marketing team.

      Creative - it's been interesting to see the progression of "traditional marketing" because it looks like companies have stepped up their creative game as it relates to advertising. I wonder if this is part of a resurgence of what we used to consider traditional marketing because of the creative campaigns going out there now.

  • ES

    Edward Stephens

    8 months ago #

    Hi Ellie,

    Super to have someone of your experience on here.

    A couple of questions from me:

    1) From your experience of inbound marketing, how much did you see it effect and shape hubspot and what were some critical inflection points you reached in terms of execution? I can imagine delivering an inbound marketing strategy can get pretty scary until it hits a tipping point.

    2) Where does that leave your opinion on old fashioned sales/cold calling etc?

    3) What do you think the future for ai/machine learning and inbound marketing is? I've noticed Salesforce's Einstein is looking to revolutionise sales approaches.

    I very much look forward to hearing from you!

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      Will AI really up the game for inbound marketers? Maybe. On the plus side, this could certainly help companies deliver a much more personalized experience to each and every prospect/customer. On the negative side, I worry that some automation technologies get the companies too far removed from their customers, which leads to bigger issues. We have to be careful, as business people (and simply as humans), that we don't let technology automate away all personal interaction. Because (1) getting it wrong leaves a real bad taste in customers' mouths, (2) there are lessons to be learned through 1:1 interactions, and (3) automation can create a self-fulfilling cycle where you over-focus on what you believe will work rather than learning from the cases that don't work and how to fix them.

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      Inbound marketing certainly played a huge role at HubSpot, both because it was how the company marketed and it was the methodology the company was promoting.

      Honestly, I think we were pretty lucky early on because we hit some tipping points early. Website Grader (the first free tool that had an optional email opt-in) was an instant hit and gave a huge leg up for later lead gen / inbound efforts. Our first ever webinar, for example, got hundreds of registrants even though we were an unknown company at the time. The pressure was moreso felt as we scaled, because we wanted to keep up a crazy pace of growth. That was a different challenge around making time both for the tried-and-true inbound efforts and for new experiments to help us as the older efforts became less effective.

      A more typical experience with inbound may be what we've had at Toast, since we are not an inbound marketing software company. Here it was a matter of (1) setting expectations around the timeline needed to see results of inbound, (2) balancing short term and long term efforts so that it's not all waiting at first, and (3) also reevaluating the inbound strategy. For example, you may find that the type of content you started with is not what you need to effectively attract the right audience.

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      As for traditional cold calling / sales, in short: it's definitely less effective than inbound, but not completely ineffective.

      I think it can be effective, depending on the industry, execution and training of the sales team, and goals. I don't think anyone would debate than an inbound lead asking to see the product is better than a cold call to an unsuspecting prospect. But some cold calling can result in customer acquisition if you're willing to deal with the lower close rates. So if the cost of the people and inefficiency is worthwhile to get customers sooner (and you have a large enough market so as not to immediately tap your whole potential market), it may make sense to invest in that way.

  • AR

    Antonio Radovan

    8 months ago #

    Hi from Spain.
    How would you suggest I start growing up a chat product?
    First users will leave fast if there's nobody else talking/to talk to. And nobody will be talking if there are no users.

    Thanks!

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      It's definitely challenging to build a marketplace - getting two distinct groups of customers on board at the same time. From the lessons I've read about companies like uber, airbnb, etc., it's all about starting with distinct networks rather than a broad approach.

      In terms of jump-starting some of that, a local company here in Boston called Nift, provides an interesting example. Nift had one side of their marketplace ready (local businesses) but they needed to get the other side (local consumers) started. So they partnered with local companies to give out promos to their employees to be some of those first consumers. You can see more about this campaign here: https://www.gonift.com/niftgiftfest

  • BR

    Brian Logan Reid

    8 months ago #

    Whatsup Ellie! Former HubSpotter here.. ;)

    1) How do you define 'demand generation'? "Branding"?
    2) What are the top 2-3+ blogs that you read/follow to stay abreast of not only inbound, but marketing in general? How often do you read them?

    Look forward to hearing your voice again! :)
    BL

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      Hi BL! I think you have your own answers to these questions, but here's my shot:

      - Demand gen is the function that attracts interest in evaluating a company's product.
      - Branding is the effort focused on communicating the values and emotions tied to a company.

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      In terms of marketing blogs I follow: While I do technically have a feedly account with quite a few blogs in there (though it's a mix of marketing and business overall), I moreso get my content via what my network posts on other social channels. That adds a nice level of vetting for the content itself, helping me break through the noise.

  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    8 months ago #

    Bonjour Ellie,

    Thank you for doing this AMA. I have a couple of questions for you.

    1) How is the line between product and growth marketing evolving over time?

    2) Imagine you lead a growth marketing team at a high potential startup to deliver value via mobile apps. From an inbound marketing standpoint, what would you focus on?

    Merci beaucoup Ellie!

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      Interesting question about the line between product and growth marketing, Arsene. It has definitely become more and more blurred over time. In some companies, "growth" might even live within product, while in other companies, "product" might actually be broken down across departments like operations/fulfillment and marketing/strategy.

      Related to my answer for the question about marketer trends and the point about the surge in technical marketers, I think marketers are learning that to do growth well, you often need to work directly on the product. The logistics of doing that may involve putting a "growth" team either in product or marketing.

      As an aside, I think it's funny to separate out "growth" or "growth marketing" as a distinct function, because I believe it should be a part of all roles and departments in a growth-focused organization.

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      As for a mobile app growth marketing team, my mind immediately goes to the structure put in place by HubSpot's Sidekick team. They had a strong culture around structured tests for constant learning. Here's an article detailing their approach:
      http://onstartups.com/insider-look-at-hubspot-sidekick-growth-approach

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    8 months ago #

    Hey Ellie - so cool to have you on!

    Clearly, there were already existing POS solutions available before Toast came along.
    What would you say are the top 1 - 3 lessons you've learned about what and how to go about communicating what's better about Toast that raises the odds of conversions?

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      One lesson I think I "re-learned" at Toast was the importance of talking with customers to understand their needs and their pains. This came through again here for a couple of reasons:

      - restaurants are feeling a lot of pain with their current solutions - so I wanted to understand what those pains were and how we could solve them (we built the product ground up with that as a key part of the product development process)

      - they have experience with a lot of existing solutions - so they may be set in particular ways, and it's important to understand how those practices developed and if there are novel ways to serve the core needs

  • JT

    Jessica Turner

    8 months ago #

    Thanks for sharing your brainpower Ellie!

    As it relates to go-to-market strategies for new products and feature launches, can you share your biggest learning's and how you go about crafting your plan of attack.

    Many thanks!

    • EM

      Ellie Mirman

      8 months ago #

      The place I always start with campaigns or launches is to start with the goal. Defining the goal plays a big role in setting the direction of the campaign, because tactics and timing will drastically change depending on the goal. The rest of my planning typically involves some data analysis (looking at what we're working with, what's worked in the past, etc.), creative brainstorming (what are some ways to achieve our goal), and tactical planning (logistics around the specific tactics and timing).

      In terms of lessons specifically around product/feature launches, I'd say:
      - really think about what will people care about - unless you're Apple, you're likely not going to get great reception just talking about your own product, so think about other angles and content that are interesting, helpful, or entertaining to your audience
      - the reminder I often have to give myself is to be patient enough to commit to some longer term tactics that won't deliver immediate results but will build up to have a big impact over time if we can commit the appropriate resources
      - campaigns don't always need to be time-delimited but rather can help you beat the drum of your broader messaging/branding/demand gen efforts
      - don't underestimate the internal marketing you need to do - including training and advocacy to establish alignment across your company and, when relevant, partners as well

      Would love to hear what others' lessons are as well. In the meantime, I hope these ideas are helpful!

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