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Hey everyone! I'm Susan Su, Head of Marketing at Reforge, where we provide professional development programs for product managers, marketers, data analysts and anyone else looking to make a meaningful impact on their product or company through GROWTH. 

I was previously a Growth Partner at 500 Startups, where I worked with many, many awesome companies, helped set up our first Series A accelerator in Miami, and ran GTM for 500's VC Unlocked program in partnership with Stanford.

Prior to 500 Startups, I was at AppSumo, promoting daily deals for web products to help people do better work, and early on, I led marketing and product initiatives for a subscription data company, Inside Network.

I've worn lots of hats -- from working on mobile product management at social gaming company hi5, to managing internationalization at Google for the Earth product -- but growth is my groove. 

I've worked with startups in ecosystems around the world to tackle their growth problems, and now through Reforge, we're sharing the growth learning and the love even further with Reforge Brief, our site and newsletter for key growth updates you can read in less than 1 min. 

  • MS

    Martijn Scheijbeler

    over 1 year ago #

    Thanks for doing this Susan! Love the content that you're producing for Reforge.
    Three questions;
    - Who are the best minds that you've talked to for Reforge and what impressed you about the way they think?
    - What new strategies/topics/stories do you see come up lately that people in Growth around you are talking about?
    - What are you most excited about on what you're working on right now?

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      *Who are the best minds that you've talked to for Reforge and what impressed you about the way they think?*

      It's impossible to pick favorites here because every mind has had something unique and great to offer, which is a good plug for fostering a diversity of relationships and voices in your career (and life).

      For virality and broader growth trends, there's no one like @andrewchen, whom we're lucky enough to have as advisor to Reforge.

      For building a team and strategy, I look up to Elena Verna, who helped build the world class growth team at SurveyMonkey and is now doing that at Malwarebytes.

      For critically evaluating an ecosystem, I go to my friend Xianhang Zhang, who actually has helped us do a lot of our growth case studies that you'll see on our blog.

      And, I've loved the deeper insights on analytics (and dark social!) that you yourself have shared with Reforge, Martijn!

      4 Share
    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      As for new strategies/topics/stories in growth, I think a lot of people are taking note of the lifecycle of the channels we've come to take as static and permanent. Established channels are giving us less reach (plus more competition), and emerging channels haven't matured enough to the point of delivering scalable, reliable growth. All this implies that the winning growth strategies of the near future won't come from a preexisting playbook.

      2 Share
    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      As for what I'm most excited about that I'm working on, that would definitely be Reforge Brief -- https://reforge.com/ brief -- which is our answer to the channel decay + increased noise we were seeing in content marketing. Content marketing is still our bread and butter, but we saw an opportunity to add value to readers in a different (shorter, easier :) way.

      2 Share
  • JD

    Jimmy Daly

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey Susan! đź‘‹

    You've had a really interesting and diverse career to date. Could you talk a little about your career trajectory, and more specifically what skills have helped you along the way?

    I'm a huge fan of the Reforge Brief. Keep up the great work!

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Hey Jimmy! Thanks for dropping this in here :)

      Career trajectory... I started out very confused about what I wanted to do. I sent out a hundred resumes when I graduated from college, knowing nothing about how you actually get a job at age 22, and when none of those worked out, I did a year of national service through AmeriCorps.

      It turned out to be one of the best things to have happened early in my career because it showed me what I didn't want (to work in a non-profit, as much as I cared about causes), and gave me talking points to take to my next opportunity, which was at Google.

      Coming from a tough community organization that worked with undocumented workers, many of whom were living on the streets, the CORE SKILL that got me to Google was communication. And, the core skill that helped me to transition into an interesting and enriching job there was building cooperative relationships.

      We get ourselves into relationships all the time, but sometimes they're competitive or adversarial.

      Mastering the skill of building cooperative relationships means unlocking the power of an entire other person, on our own behalf (and they get the same in return).

      This has really been the key to every single cool job I've ever had. Before Inside Network, an awesome company that was acquired (too early imho), I knew Eric Eldon -- and that was the relationship that brought me to their door. Before AppSumo, I knew (and had worked with) Noah Kagan. Before 500 Startups, I already had a nice friendly connection with Dave McClure. And so on.

      Most people can, with time, learn the specifics of any target career. If you want to become a software engineer, you can do a bootcamp or a course to get all the skills, but it's the relationship side that gets you that first conversation that turns into an opportunity.

      7 Share
  • NK

    Nadya Khoja

    over 1 year ago #

    Are there any habits you have recently taken on that have had a major impact on your day to day life?

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Hey @nadyakhoja Love this question :)

      I recently read somewhere that habit is what we do regularly and unconsciously and discipline is what we do regularly and with intention.

      Although we talk a lot about "user habits" in growth, UX, etc, when it comes to my own day to day life, I try to establish conscious disciplines -- which, by the way, have a compounding effect only if you practice them with high frequency.

      My current disciplines (none too recently adopted though):

      1) Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga daily

      A self-practice style of yoga where you practice a set sequence and don't move on until your teacher decides you're ready to learn the next posture.

      2) meditation / sitting practice daily

      I sat a few Vipassana 10-day courses a couple of years back, and it was great for getting me established in this method.

      3) morning focus time

      No meetings, minimal time in the inbox.

      4) acknowledgments

      This is about acknowledging others in general, but also in specific ways during the workday.

      For example: someone sends me an email with a request that I can't answer yet. In the past, I might stall or avoid, but a discipline of acknowledgment means a reply -- even if it's just a simple, "Hey I saw this and don't have the answer yet, but will get back to you when I do."

      The broader application is to all the interactions in life.

      4 Share
  • GY

    Guy Yalif

    over 1 year ago #

    What do you believe are the most important things when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of growth strategies? What tools/metrics do you use most?

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      This is a great question, Guy.

      Evaluating what growth strategies you should pursue comes down to looking at your product, target market, channel mix, and business model (aka how you monetize).

      @bbalfour talks about something called The Four Fits that is the most bulletproof framework for thinking about growth that I've come across yet.

      The four fits are:

      1) Market-Product Fit (note that "market" comes first here)

      2) Product-Channel Fit (build your product to fit channels you've identified, because you won't be able to bend the channels to your product)

      3) Channel-Model Fit (how + how deeply you monetize will affect which channels will work for you)

      4) Model-Market Fit (this is about how your business model, aka how you make money, affects the size and dynamics of your target market)

      I would strongly recommend checking out some of Brian's work if you're curious to learn more about this framework -- https://www.brianbalfour.com/essays/product-market-fit-isnt-enough

      7 Share
      • SS

        Susan Su

        over 1 year ago #

        *What tools/metrics do you use most?*

        The right tools and metrics totally depends on the Four Fits mentioned above, and on what stage your company is in.

        At Reforge, we have a product that involves a high-commitment purchase, and a long sales cycle. Because of the parameters of our MODEL, and our MARKET (mid-career growth professionals at top tech companies) that implies certain things about which CHANNELS work best for us. So for example, we invest a lot in content to drive organic acquisition and nurture during that long sales cycle. When it comes to metrics, we care about leading (not lagging) indicators that we are on track -- qualified leads at the top of the funnel, strong and consistent retention even within our marketing funnel, and low dropoff rates in our conversion funnel.

        2 Share
  • VK

    Vikash Koushik

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey Susan,

    I was wondering if you could talk about how you come up with strategies/tactics for the companies you work at? What's your thought process like? What questions do you ask yourself to land on tactics that end up working well for you.

    Thanks a bunch for taking the time to do this! :)

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Hey @vikashkoushik great question! Everything starts with understanding the company's business model, and from that, the growth model. To be more specific, I usually start with thinking about how the company makes money or could make money (all the juicy details -- who/how/when/where/why) and work my way towards acquisition, engagement, and retention from there.

  • MM

    Marcus Meissner

    over 1 year ago #

    Hi Susan - I'm curious, as much as you can speak to it, who are your target personas? I'd imagine that you could either market directly to the end user, or try and go for a more enterprise sale with employee education at big companies (or more likely someone else). A lot of companies I've worked with struggle to serve two different audiences. "X works really well for getting SMBs, but we want enterprise clients too" is something I hear often. Any tips on balancing those demands?

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Hey @Marcus_Meissner great question and thanks for being here! The perfect person for Reforge -- for right now -- is a mid-career professional working in growth. They're mid-career, but they're ambitious and engaged, and on their way to a leadership role (if not there already). They are PMs, marketers, engineers, UX researchers, designers, the exact title matters less than the function.

      Our model is that we sell directly to the individual, but often times the company ends up reimbursing the bill. As a result, we have what I like to call a "buyer behind the buyer."

      We spend almost ALL of our efforts building a relationship with the individual, knowing that if they're successful, then the buyer who's sitting behind them (their manager or their company) will also get the benefits of that success.

      In that way, our two audiences are really one -- they nest together. If you're struggling to serve multiple audiences, I would ask: what is the relationship between those audiences, and how can you leverage that?

      That also opens up a question around order of operations. Can entrenchment with one audience give you an advantage with your next audience?

  • PH

    Pradyut Hande

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey, Susan!

    Glad to have you here.

    Have been subscribing to the Reforge newsletter for a while now and have been an admirer of the on-the-go relevant content!
    Had a couple of questions for you:

    1. What success have you had amplifying your content through your Social Media channels? What channels have worked best for you?
    2. Could you shed some light on your customer retention strategy?

    Look forward to hearing back from you regarding the same!

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Social is tough because we users don't control the platform, or the feed algorithms that we depend on for distribution.

      That said, the earlier point about Product Channel Fit (https://brianbalfour.com/essays/product-channel-fit-for-growth) is key. Is your product a good fit for the dynamics of a given channel, and of the audience that you can reach there?

      At Reforge, LinkedIn is our most important channel because that fit is there with the professional audience. We don't do anything special for social amplification, except try to create content that's high quality and takes advantage of the platform's current priorities (video), and some of its viral features (tagging).

      2 Share
    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Customer retention is interesting for us, because the Reforge product and program experience is cohort-based and only runs at specific times of the year.

      Given that, there are 2 types of retention for us:

      1) Retention of our marketing audience, aka email subscribers

      This comes down to active subscribers, which we work on with:
      content quality + email deliverability and reputation + regular list cleansing

      2) Repurchase from our participants

      This fall we'll have 3 concurrent programs (Growth Series, Retention Series, and Growth Modeling). It's a big deal to us when a Reforge Alum comes back and trusts us again with their time and their money. In our case, repurchase is a proxy for audience retention.

      2 Share
      • PH

        Pradyut Hande

        over 1 year ago #

        Thanks for sharing your insights!

        Cleansing of your email list is a sacrosanct hygiene factor that often gets ignored.

  • DH

    Dani Hart

    over 1 year ago #

    Hi Susan,

    So awesome to have you on for an AMA. A fan of the Brief and new video series. A few questions for you...

    1. What's your favorite thing about working in growth?
    2. What's your least favorite thing about working in growth?
    3. If you could tell anyone that's just getting started in growth 3 things, what would they be?

    I could probably ask a hundred more questions, but I'll leave it at that. :)

    Cheers,
    Dani

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi @danihart thank you for having me! :)

      My favorite thing about working in growth is that I get to marry qualitative, humanistic understanding with quantitive insights about behavior. I'm also very goal-oriented, so I like that growth has an exciting timeline and specific targets.

      My least favorite thing about working in growth is when people forget that it's both qualitative AND quantitative. Just juicing the numbers, while making people unhappy, isn't successful growth. Just making people happy, without attention to your own company's goals, isn't successful growth either.

      My advice to those just getting started would be: READ, ask, deliver value, make friends :)

  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    over 1 year ago #

    Bonjour Susan,

    Thanks for doing this AMA.

    What is the importance of an open mind when it comes to growth testing?

    What did you learn from a startup growth standpoint while at 500?

    Merci!

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      As for startups, and my time at 500, I'll say this:

      Startups -- don't over look brand, it can give you that unfair advantage over competitors and incumbents. A lot of the decisions we make are still fundamentally driven by emotional responses. Brand is your personality, growth is the way you use it.

      4 Share
    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Salut Arsene! I think you're asking a question you already know the answer to :)

      When it comes to growth testing, failures are just as valuable as wins. We may all pay lipservice to this, but failures can feel painful (even in an experiment -- "did I just waste time / resources / cred?" etc), and that takes not only an open mind but a strong and steady one to truly embrace.

      2 Share
  • VB

    Victor Bercaru

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey Susan! What is the most underestimated thing in consumer startups growth at an early stage?

    Also, is there something you'd want more people to know about/realise? even if it's not about growth.
    Thanks!

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Hey Victor, thanks for being here! I'm seeing very early stage startups getting more and more comfortable with guerrilla growth tactics, understanding their channels, and implementing measurement.

      One thing that I think many of them are missing is a dose of above-the-line (or brand) marketing to increase their awareness footprint and get more people to give them the time of day.

      This is extremely helpful and strategic in a few ways, in order of importance: hiring (ie, your growth hires, who might have their pick of jobs), fundraising, and finally increasing audience trust to grease the wheels of more traditionally growth-y acquisition.

      • VB

        Victor Bercaru

        over 1 year ago #

        Good point, makes so much sense. thank you for your effort on this AMA!
        Greatly appreciated.

  • MV

    Maja Voje

    over 1 year ago #

    Love www.reforge.com.
    Could you please share some advice on how to successfully apply for the growth program for international SMEs and what is the best program to apply for? Thanks a million & best wishes!

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi @majavoje thanks for this question! We have an application process for the Reforge programs because it's a significant investment of your time and money, and we want to make sure there's a good fit so it's worth that investment. The best way to go through the application process is to provide as much clear detail as you can, and also to make sure your LinkedIn profile isn't blank :)

  • AG

    Ashley Greene

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey Susan!

    Lots of questions, but I'll cap it at four. ;)

    1) How do you use/have you used user research?
    2) What role in growth do you think user research has?
    3) How do you guys handle it at Reforge?
    4) What do you see as the biggest change/trend in growth in the last year?

    Thank you!

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Hey @ashleykgreene thanks for being here!

      We use user research in a multitude of ways at Reforge, and it is always the first thing I'd want to do on a new growth project. We've used user research to validate the initial concept behind Reforge Brief (our "growth product"), as well as to understand customers' sentiment and experiences after they go through our program.

      We do both self reported quantitative research (surveys) and long form qualitative research (conversations) that is painstaking but incredibly rich, and we are constantly running research -- whether that's me on an early version of Reforge Brief, or my colleague David Grotting running ongoing research for our more mature version of Brief.

      • AG

        Ashley Greene

        over 1 year ago #

        Awesome. Thanks Susan. How'd you get over the painstaking part of interviews? Or how have you seen others do it? That always seems to be one of the things holding people back.

  • MC

    Mae Cadao

    over 1 year ago #

    How do you maintain your growth idea pipeline and make sure you never run out of ideas of campaigns / concepts to test? And a follow-up, how do you prioritize what to go after next?

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      @Mae_Cadao, we run out of time (in the short term), but we never run out of ideas :) To keep the juices flowing, we have a growth marketing backlog that anyone in the company can contribute to (and "contribute" might be as lightweight as mentioning an idea, that I or someone else then logs). We also talk to our audience and our customers a LOT, and that sparks endless ideas for improvement.

      To prioritize so many ideas, ICE is a good first line of defense, but we also look at our overall business goals for the quarter or the year, and make sure that any ideas we test or pursue align to those broader goals.

      1 Share
  • SS

    Susan Su

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey everyone, thanks for turning out today and for the awesome questions here! It was a pleasure, and if there's more, please don't hesitate to find me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

    PS -- if you're in the market for vetted growth insights that you can read in 1 min or less, I (and our other readers :) highly recommend you check out Reforge Brief https://reforge.com/brief

  • JQ

    Jason Quey

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey Susan! Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA.

    Couple questions:
    1. What repeatable wins have you found helpful to work with other companies? How would you go about doing this at a company without a big brand name?
    2. Do you notice people treating you differently as a woman in marketing, whether in the climb to where you are now or even w/all your accomplishments? Is there something you believe men can/should do to better support women? Is there something you believe that good intentions are actually hurting men?
    3. I've mainly worked as a solo marketer, with occasional VAs or contract junior marketers. What would you suggest I should consider before making my first big hire (finances, timing, focus on training employees or landing a more senior marketer, etc)?

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Hey @jdquey thank you for asking such thoughtful questions! :)

      Over the years, I've become more against a widespread use of "playbooks" for growth because I've seen that the best outcomes come from taking fresh eyes and a fresh mind to the growth problem in front of you.

      You can lean on frameworks, like the Four Fits discussed earlier, but ultimately, you have to start your growth evaluation and opportunity analysis fresh. Something I use everywhere is to start with a deep and empathic understanding of the user or the customer:

      Who are they inside and out, and what are they trying to accomplish? Why do they want that? When is the right time for them? All of that before you start asking, How can we market to them?

      4 Share
    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      As for your question about being a woman in this industry, I've had a lot of positive experiences, but then again we never know what we're missing. So much is based on relationships -- whether that's a key growth insight that's not public, or a new opportunity at a company -- and if anything, I think women (myself included) could spend more time building relationships with each other and with men who are allies.

      Men should look to include women, and not just for optics but because women are AWESOME, and because all people have something to offer. Inclusion doesn't just mean a token spot on a panel, either, but really meeting the person where they're at, making an equal effort to fit in with them, as much as they are trying to fit in with you.

      3 Share
    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      When it comes to hiring a junior marketer or even a VA, my rule of thumb is, Have I done the job for enough of a while and at enough of a volume that I truly understand its parameters? If so, then I know I can be a good guide for that new hire.

      • JQ

        Jason Quey

        over 1 year ago #

        Thanks for the great insight, Susan!

        Any suggestions for hiring for a senior position? And what you like to keep in mind when deciding to hire for a senior role vs. junior role?

  • SV

    Steven van Vessum

    over 1 year ago #

    Hi Susan, great you're doing an AMA here!

    A few questions:

    1) If you could go back in time and give some advice to the Susan that just graduated, what would it be?

    2) What are your 2018 targets for Reforge brief, and how can we help achieve them?

    3) What's your take on https://growth.org/ (previously: Inbound.org) - does the Growth community really need another platform?

    Looking forward to your response :)

    Cheers, Steven

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi @Steven_van-vessum nice to see you here, and thanks for the great questions! :)

      If I could go back to the Susan who just graduated, I would tell her to worry less, and focus more. I would tell her -- over and over again -- that everything is going to be better than OK, and to trust in the awesome future that's in store. I think that's really the best thing we can tell our past and present selves, because all other specific outcomes stem from that sense of self trust and focus. Trust gives you the direction, focus gives you the firepower.

      • SV

        Steven van Vessum

        over 1 year ago #

        Thanks for your answer Susan!

        I'm inclined to tell my T-10 years self the same, but then wonder: would I have made it this far had I not worried that much? :)

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Thanks for asking about Reforge Brief! :D

      Our main goal for Brief (https://reforge.com/brief) is to make it the go-to for all the hundreds of thousands of smart people working to grow tech companies and create better experiences for users and for customers.

      If you're delivering something so valuable that's it's cherished and indispensable to people, then the numbers will follow.

      We also hope to hit a certain number of weekly active email subscribers and to unlock forwarding virality to get us there :)

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      I haven't been following https://growth.org, but my take is that if it exists, and people are happily using it, then apparently the growth community DID need another platform.

      • SV

        Steven van Vessum

        over 1 year ago #

        It's due to be launched still, curious where it'll go. Time will tell I guess if we really need another platform :)

  • LC

    Lara Cuttini

    over 1 year ago #

    Hi Susan,

    I am really positively impressed by your experience and career and I admire women who like you are making the difference in their job.
    I am just at the beginning of my career in Growth and I have big expectations from me.

    Do you have any suggestions and tips to improve in this field? Which books/experiences helped you the most and would you recommend?

    Best,
    Lara

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi @lara_cuttini welcome to the world of growth! My biggest suggestion is to keep doing what you're doing -- putting yourself and your intentions out there, building and nurturing relationships with a variety of people whom you respect and want to learn from, and also picking the right sandbox to practice and showcase your own growing expertise.

      When it comes to specific career decisions, I always come back to this essay by Elad Gil, "Career Decisions" http://blog.eladgil.com/2015/03/career-decisions.html

      It's a must read and a must do :)

  • RG

    Robert Gordon

    over 1 year ago #

    Hello Susan,

    I'm a startup pre-owned auto dealer in Atlanta, Ga...licensed insured & bonded...focused on internet based brand awareness local marketing campaign strategies.

    Rather than investing in lot inventory (show cars), the approach is a broker concierge service; ie taking customer orders for specific make/model/color etc vehicles and obtaining the desired vehicle from private dealer auctions & selling to the customer at just over dealer acquisition costs...significantly below retail lot prices!

    Your suggestions are warmly welcomed.

    rg

    • SS

      Susan Su

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi @robert_gordon It sounds like you're doing the right things already, and I'm willing to bet word of mouth will be the biggest driver for new business. Keep those customers smiling and talking (to their friends), and you'll have your first lead acquisition loop!

  • MS

    Marianna Schiavino

    over 1 year ago #

    Hi Susan! Thanks for doing this! Love the content that you're sharing for Reforge.

    My questions:
    - Taking in consideration the small budgets usually startups has when setting up a team, when you'd say it's the right time to set up a Growth Team? And what skills should we look for when hiring talent?

  • FA

    Faisal Abdullah

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey Faisal her from a first tier company https://www.thevitamincompany.com here in Pakistan with a wide range of products and now we are aiming to open other markets and now we are thinking about how can we open this and what is the main source to connect with and what are our core focus to get more ROI and build trust to retain customers.
    Please share your thoughts.
    Thanks.
    Faisal Abdullah

  • EC

    EmĂ­lia Chagas

    over 1 year ago #

    Hi Susan, thank you for sharing such valuable information, as always! I'd like to know more about Reforge's online content... What are the best practices your team follows to make sure the content strategy is always aligned with the business goals?

  • LK

    Luciano Kalil

    over 1 year ago #

    Nice!

  • CG

    Catherine Grogan

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey Susan!

    I am currently trying to get into a career in growth and want to write content about my journey. I hope to write about my "T shaped" growth learning process and the challenges/successes I have experienced with trying to get my foot in the door as a recent graduate.

    1. My question is related to your writing, you are so authentic and thought-provoking, what is the best advice you have with writing?

    I become such a perfectionist that I never feel like I'm done or creating value.

    2. What do you think the best Qualitative and Quantitative skill is to learn first? I'm having serious information overload with managing to learn all of the ins and outs.

    Thank you, you are really inspiring!!

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