In this episode, we talk to Andrew Lee Miller, founder of the GrowthExperts startup coaching program, AndrewStartups.com and author of “The Startup Growth book”.
We learn from his experience and discuss marketing strategy and how startups should think about growing their brand and marketing capability.
Matthew Todd (00:01.155)
Hey, welcome back to the podcast. Really pleased to be joined today by Andrew Leemiller, founder of andrewstartups.com. Andrew, great to have you here on the podcast.
Andrew Lee Miller (00:10.294)
Matt, I’m so glad to be here, thank you.
Matthew Todd (00:14.463)
No worries, we’re looking forward to the conversation today. I think it’s going to add a lot of value to our audience, especially for those that are early stage startup fans themselves. But before we get into the detail, I’ll let you give our audience a bit of background about yourself. Tell us a bit about your background and what it is that you now do.
Andrew Lee Miller (00:32.874)
Yeah, thank you. So.
I got an international business degree a long time ago and all I wanted to do was travel the world. I had a startup in college that made video CVs for graduating college students a long time ago, we’re talking like 2006, and that tech was a little bit ahead of its time but it enabled me to realize I loved growth hacking and marketing even before growth hacking was a term. So I wasn’t really in love with being a founder at the time so I decided right out of college
way to travel was to find startup founders all over the world that I could just help with marketing. And so that led me to Mexico, then to Dubai, drove a couple startup exits in Dubai. One of them was a $190 million classifieds website that I growth hacked to 25 million monthly active users.
kind of made a name for myself in the region so I did some stuff in the Middle East for a while and then I kind of I wanted to see I wanted to be in the most innovative place in the world and see if my talents were really up to par with the best marketers in the world so I moved to Silicon Valley and I drove a startup exit there after two and a half years and then I decided to go out on my own
do this as a service for tech and product focused, engineering focused founders. So what I found is a lot of people who are building the product are not thinking about marketing until it’s too late, assuming that their product is going to do all the marketing for them and just not doing what I call pre-marketing or marketing foundation. So starting the marketing as you’re developing the product. And so I built this company.
Andrew Lee Miller (02:22.308)
is called Growth Experts, and we essentially do three things. Training for corporate teams that already have marketers. We do coaching for bootstrap companies around the world, so kind of a fractional CMO coaching. And then we do full-stack consulting for tech companies, mostly in San Francisco still, where I spend a lot of time. But around the world, after they raise their first million dollars, we essentially take marketing off the founder’s plate.
speaking, have online courses and all that to just try and help founders around the world.
Matthew Todd (02:58.563)
nice and awesome sounds like impressive background and yeah good to hear how you’re helping other startups and I think for our audience like I say most of them are likely to be early stage startup founders and I’m certainly interested by what you said about most founders not thinking about marketing at the right stage but before we get into that you mentioned growth hacking a number of times in the
intro that I think is a term that’s certainly thrown around a lot so you know just listen definitions first what do you mean by growth hacking
Andrew Lee Miller (03:29.454)
Andrew Lee Miller (03:34.238)
Yeah, you’re totally right and a lot of people joke that it’s a buzzword and that it’s dying but I was around and you can tell if you’re listening you don’t have video but I’m bald so I’m old enough to know what we called it aggressive online marketing before growth hacking term was but essentially what it means to me Matthew is that it’s scaling or getting traction without a lot of…
resources. So, you know, there’s two major ways to growth hack your startup and it drills down or boils down to hacking your product for virality. So your product, your user experience, your service, how do you get one customer, one user to bring in three more and then that’s hacking your product and that often is free and can 2x your user acquisition, 3x, 5x sometimes. And then the other side is
community. So if you know who your target demographic is or you have a suspicion that there’s an ability to create value for a large segment of the population, where are they spending time online, what apps are they using, what websites are they using, even offline, how do you get access to them at scale, sometimes through coding things, and I can tell a bunch of examples of that, or by rudimentary offline things as well.
both the major categories of growth hacking.
Matthew Todd (05:03.607)
I see. No, it makes a lot of sense. And I think that’s gonna look forward to getting into some detail about what that could look like and or has looked like in practice as well. But for a bootstrap founder of a SaaS startup, let’s say they probably think they’ve got product market fit, but I think we know they probably haven’t got market fit yet. What they got is a bit of early adopter usage. They got some initial customers, likely through kind of scrappy conversations. Maybe they’re plugged into some communities, maybe they’re not, but.
How should they be thinking about marketing in those early days?
Andrew Lee Miller (05:38.318)
You’re totally right. So.
I break it into three phases. So first is finalizing the marketing foundation. And this is the number one most overlooked thing. Like you said, a lot of times founders will reach out, Andrew, we’re ready to go full steam. Well, first I want to see, I mean, things as boring as have you finalized the website for conversions? If you’re a mobile app, is the App Store page optimized on both App Stores with the keyword density that we want? Are we sending the right signals to Google, to Apple?
that this is what we want to rank for once we do get the traction right. We want to make sure our analytics are in place. Do we know what our KPIs are and KPIs for acquisition and retention and showing that strong MPS or referral rate. MPS means Net Promoter Score. If you’re listening, that means like the percentage of people that are happy with your product after they use it. Those are the things that tell me that we’re really ready to scale. And so then the second phase is
launching organic channels to really test out the messaging. Now, if we’re in a really competitive space, or we’re working with a company that’s raised a significant amount of capital, we don’t really need to lean on the organic channels as much. We can move faster. But usually, for early stage startups, the smartest thing to do is to launch scalable outreach, PR, influencer, content marketing, the organic search optimizations
mentioned earlier, those channels can start to bring in some traffic and some acquisition organically so we can figure out what landing page is, what call to action, what price point, what features, what types of content, what channels are working really the best, and then the third phase is obviously scaling up what’s working with either automation, more team, or more paid user acquisition investment.
Matthew Todd (07:39.511)
Cool, that’s really interesting. When it comes to actually taking on those activities, testing those strategies like the ones you mentioned, at what point should the founding team be doing this, if at all, or at what point should they be bringing in extra help, no matter what that looks like? Because I think many founders know the jobs that they don’t understand, or the jobs that they don’t like, but…
probably aren’t exactly aware of how best to take those things off their plate. They’re hoping for a miracle hire that can somehow do strategy, do execution, do everything, which often doesn’t exist. So how would you advise they look at kind of getting that expertise that they need?
Andrew Lee Miller (08:22.891)
You know, it’s a really great question actually, and that’s why my agency does more than just consulting, because every company has different budgets and different workload that’s needed. And also, it also depends on macroeconomic stuff, right? Like right now, you know, it’s a bit of a difficult time for companies to raise money, they wanna keep the burn rate as low as possible. So I really advise against making that early hire. But overall, you see about 30% of those first marketing hires
don’t stay with the company long term. And so I do say, you know, I’m a big advocate for starting with a consultant or a coach. Obviously, that’s why I built the company. But there’s data and research that supports that. I mean, we get most of our business through venture capitalists recommending us because they have seen this movie before. They know that, you know, a lot of times a company that raises a significant amount of money, they want to hire a marketer from a big company
logo in their resume, but at that company, that marketer had 20 people working for them and they weren’t used to executing at a rapid clip like you’d need for a startup. So one thing I say is definitely don’t just hire a senior level marketer that has a bunch of logos in their background. If you think about it, a consultant like me has worked with over 100 startup projects in the last 15 years and somebody who’s stayed five years at each company has been at three
five companies of experience. So you want to work with a consultant to keep the costs low. You know it costs a lot of money to make an internal hire not only the time it takes to interview them but if you’re paying a recruitment firm or you know the benefits and the salary. I think the some the average is it’s you know somewhere around $150,000 for it to make a bad director or C-level marketing hire. So I think that if you can start with a fractional
Andrew Lee Miller (10:24.06)
or a consultant, depending on your funding, is better because of experience and the fact that they’ll handle execution as well as strategy development. And then once the data is there to figure out what channels are really promising, then you can make internal hires. And our agency also does marketing recruitment for companies just at the tail end of working with them as consultants because we get that data.
Andrew Lee Miller (10:53.92)
manager because we scale up the social media, we create a strategy, we start posting on all pages, we start engaging as the brand off of their own pages and then as we get data to see that there’s an ROI of that, we create the job description, tell the company this is a role we should hire for and I think that’s the most successful way forward because again you want to keep that burn rate as low as possible and also if you’re a small team and you make a bad
it can be detrimental to morale, whereas an external company is a bit easier to cut off if they’re not working well, so it’s a lot lower risk in that regard as well.
Matthew Todd (11:35.799)
Yeah, absolutely. I like what you say about the marketing needs of a startup typically being quite different from other types of businesses and I think that’s something that can be hard for startups to kind of figure out is you know which marketing, you know consultant even if they make the decision that’s what they want to do. It’s hard for them to know which ones are best suited to startups and obviously that’s what you do, that’s your background which is good but I’ve seen startups.
thinking about working with a more generic marketing agency. And the messaging they get from that agency is all the same, right? So we can give you this many leads, we can give you that many leads, but really all they’re doing is providing you kind of access to a typical contact database, Cognizant or something similar, via them and then making you pay an extremely high price tag for it. And likely not to see any decent results because of that as well.
Andrew Lee Miller (12:11.5)
Andrew Lee Miller (12:32.6)
Yeah, don’t do that.
Matthew Todd (12:36.887)
Yeah, absolutely. So I think it can be hard for startups to figure out how to kind of own that marketing strategy and that’s why I think what you were talking about in terms of providing both that strategy guidance and execution, it makes perfect sense as to why that’s what a startup needs is they need both of those elements coming together, which is where that consultant model works well, I think.
Andrew Lee Miller (13:01.258)
Yeah. Yeah, you know, it’s not a…
the most profitable area to work in as an agency. I mean, if I was just money focused, I would be working with big, huge corporations on marketing consultancy that, you know, startups often do run out of money for external reasons, again, like macroeconomic stuff, product issues, to other team issues, and a lot of entrepreneurs and marketing agency owners have told me, it’s foolish to focus on this, but I think the secret to happiness in life is finding the thing that you’re passionate about
aligning that with the thing that you’re talented at and doing that for your whole life. And I just love early stage startups. So, our company is unique because we do things that don’t scale for companies at the early stages which is what you’re supposed to do. And often that means doing getting our hands dirty in time intensive campaigns. And that’s what startups really need. And that’s why we have the success rate that we have.
Matthew Todd (14:01.795)
Yeah, absolutely, you’re quite right. It is those things that don’t scale, is what they need at the beginning. And yeah, I know many people that advise working, you’re not working with startups because of those challenges, but like you say, if that combines your passion and your talent and your skillset, then yeah, I can see how you can certainly add an incredible amount of value and make that work. So for startups then thinking about maybe going,
out to market trying to develop their messaging etc. Are there any channels or strategies here should they be approaching multiple channels should they stick to one channel I see a lot of startup founders just kind of floundering at that initial stage too scared to commit to something but at the same time not as committed as they should be to a particular channel to really work out is it the messaging that’s wrong is it.
The channel that’s wrong is it, or approach that’s wrong. So, how would you advise a startup kind of view their initial marketing efforts and results?
Andrew Lee Miller (15:11.15)
So there is no such thing as starting marketing too early. If you’re even pre-product, I want you to be posting on social media about the solution, the problem that you’re solving. You should be pushing it out to potential customers if you’re a B2B thing or you’re a…
SaaS company, you should be having conversations with the companies that should be buying your product when it’s done. You can use LinkedIn, you can use email, you can use Twitter, you can DM people on Instagram to find potential customers, but it’s better to build alongside of getting that qualitative feedback from potential customers than to just build in a silo on your own.
But as far as one particular channel, there’s no reason to only be posting on one area. There’s no reason to only love LinkedIn. It doesn’t matter. I mean, I have B2B SaaS clients in the telecom space that are still posting on TikTok, even though they’ll never get a customer there. And that’s for two reasons. One, it doesn’t take any extra time to repost anywhere else. So you can do that through tools like later.com or socialchamp.io.
or you can build a quick script to auto post through if this than that or for it with Zapier that will repost your content everywhere. So you as a founder only have to focus on the channel that you love but you want to make sure that you’re distributing your social media content on every single channel everywhere. The second reason is because Google and again the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, they’re looking for social media activity and signals
and everybody in search knows that is becoming more and more important to rank your business higher. So the more active you are on all of these social media sites, the more you will pass up your competition for relevant search terms that will bring you organic traffic for years and years. So you know even if you’re only a B2B company, you should be posting on LinkedIn. Most likely that will be the highest return on your time investment, but it’s
Andrew Lee Miller (17:21.748)
obvious that you need to post in all those places at the same time. So the short answer is start now. Let’s talk about the, I mean, if you don’t even know what you’re going to build yet, but you have an idea of the target, then you can just go to Google images and scrape a bunch of memes related to your target. I mean, so I have a client in Dubai that is a…
Matthew Todd (17:28.972)
Andrew Lee Miller (17:43.702)
like an Airbnb for parking spots app called Parkron and they are, we’re focusing on a Dubai parking meme strategy for social media, so we don’t even have to create the content. We’re just grabbing 500 memes because it’s a really big problem in that region. So people have made a lot of memes about every neighborhood and then we’re scheduling those posts across all social media with the relevant geo-localized hashtags and they’re getting traction
media that the founders never even used before. So it shouldn’t be based on just what the founder thinks is important for that target demographic. You should let the data tell you where your users are.
Matthew Todd (18:28.331)
Yeah, and I think that’s super important. I think a lot of founders can often think about the platforms that only they engage with and aren’t willing to accept that data. And I’ve seen a lot of people make assumptions about, like you say, oh, we’ll stick to LinkedIn. Oh, we won’t do Facebook. Surely, you know, business, other businesses can’t be on Facebook or TikTok or whatever it may be. The fact is, you know, people are people and they will be across a lot of those social channels and platforms.
Andrew Lee Miller (18:51.294)
Matthew Todd (18:59.091)
And, you know, aside from the organic side of things, you know, when should founders be looking at pay traffic? Is that something as well that you’d advise they start early on scale up? Or is that something that you think they’d be better off only bringing in once they’ve got a bit of traction for organic first?
Andrew Lee Miller (19:19.126)
Yeah, that’s a great question. So.
I tend to be a scarcity focused marketer, you know, and I think it’s one of my talents too. Even when we have a budget, I want to be data driven. I want to see organic traction. I want to see proof of KPI growth before we really scale things up. But a couple times, you know, somewhere around 10% of our clients have significant funding and they’re in a competitive like Lyft Uber type environment and they need to go fast
They need to get market share. They need to get that data as quick as possible. And so in those scenarios, if you have more… So it’s actually a little… You’re not… Nobody can watch this really, but it’s a simple formula. If you have more money, then you have time, then you want to do more paid advertising. If you have more time to gain that market share, then you have money, then you want to focus on the organic channels, and you want to avoid the spend until you’re sure of something working. So, you know, an example in my own career,
launched my book, the Startup Growth Book, we focused on organic channels for the first year and then once we really figured out who the exact target was, where they were, what type, what chapters of the book drove the most conversions, then we started scaling up with paid user acquisition and you know that turned out to be a lot less costly for me as a marketer because I did not want to spend you know $20,000 to get that learning in the beginning. So instead we
focused on pushing that out organically and then once we got the data around what was working then we started to sprinkle on a paid advertising budget. So I think that’s the smartest way to do it but again there are big, big entrepreneurs out there that have vision, they know that they need to move quickly and they know that they need to break a few eggs to make the omelet and that’s totally okay as well. You can move quicker if that’s it, if you have the stomach for it.
Matthew Todd (21:18.551)
Yeah, absolutely. It makes sense in terms of balancing that money and time equation. And yeah, I can see how there is that trade off, but yeah, why there is certainly a lot of value in proving out that messaging and that audience organically first. And I think for a lot of startup founders, that is worth doing just to get into that rhythm to keep getting that feedback, like you say, focus on those KPIs. And I think it’s going to actually
work on that messaging and get real-time feedback from it and I think sometimes commit to that messaging as well. I think commitment can be an issue for founders like well what if that doesn’t work what if you want to go with this angle instead what if you want to go with that angle instead and I think that can lead them to be scared to actually truly try a particular angle or particular type of messaging if that makes sense.
Andrew Lee Miller (21:52.063)
Andrew Lee Miller (22:11.018)
Yeah, yeah, no, you’re right. The paid.
Budget is often a band-aid. You know, I’ve worked with some famous clients, which I won’t mention, that had so much money, they were able to continue just increasing the paid advertising budget rather than fixing the issues in the product that were lowering the conversion rate. They were just, you know, okay, our conversion rate’s dropping by 25%, just spend 25% more. And I call it like a band-aid. It’s a band-aid rather than actually fixing the problem.
Matthew Todd (22:44.343)
Yeah, absolutely. Let the data tell you the problem and actually, as you say, try and fix the root cause rather than look for that band-aid. I think that’s really, really interesting and thank you for sharing that. One thing I want to come to, but I didn’t want to get to first because I think founders can often be a bit too product-centric, but I think it’s worth covering off what you mentioned early on, which is the product elements that can help with that element of virality.
Andrew Lee Miller (22:48.47)
Matthew Todd (23:12.635)
to your products, I wonder if you can kind of talk to those points a little bit, because I’m not sure that a lot of founders may quite have experience of that and seen it before.
Andrew Lee Miller (23:18.219)
Yeah, so like I said, at the beginning of your product development phase, you want to already be working on marketing. And that can be external things like setting up social media, doing your search marketing. But at the same time, it can also be making sure that the product is going to bring in as many extra users as possible. So we call that the K factor or the virality. And it’s not just a P2C thing. It’s not just a consumer mobile app thing.
it was born. Again going back to the net promoter score that’s more of a B2B term essentially is optimizing how many other customers or users your customers will bring in and it can really change the game for you if you are a really expensive agency or B2B service and you have the ability to get one of your customers that cost a lot of money your CAC is really high your customer
acquisition cost is a lot, it takes a long time as a sales cycle to bring in a new customer, then obviously it’s a game changer if you can get every customer to bring in other customers. So I have a client that’s actually in the agency space, a content creation agency, and the KPI for him that he’s focusing on is how many referrals am I getting per customer. That is an indication that you’re providing a really good service, but that you’re also
and incentivizing those customers or users to bring in other users because the cost of that is significantly lower than you having to go out and pitch and close another client. So whether you’re B2B or B2C, you want to optimize that virality. So you know with a B2C app it’s stuff sometimes as easy as interviewing customers through our users live as they’re going through your
Andrew Lee Miller (25:21.044)
where their face lights up on video, where are they happiest, where are they getting their aha moment when they really get the most value out of your mobile app and injecting incentives to share, import contacts. I mean, we all, the most famous, we all imported all of our contacts into Airbnb when Airbnb was brand new. They had enough VC funding that they could give a lot of free credit away to people for importing their contacts
and referring and that was one of the major ways that they scaled up and so being able to do that doesn’t always have to be free credit it can be a percentage of the revenue, a referral credit, it can be social status, a badge, a gamification, social currency, stuff like that but the overall idea is we want one user to bring in five more users I mean that is a high number but even if it’s one more user then your customer acquisition cost goes down 50%.
Matthew Todd (26:20.043)
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s really interesting to look at that. And I think in terms of KPIs that a startup should be tracking, I think that’s a pretty fundamental one, because as you say, it’s going to be something that maximizes the return on that customer acquisition cost, but as well it’s going to give you that validation that you are adding value to that audience as well and that your messaging is on point and that.
Andrew Lee Miller (26:37.43)
Matthew Todd (26:48.419)
the customers you’ve got are having a good experience because they’re willing to actually refer someone rather than just say oh that looks nice, so therefore they’re much likely to be more loyal customers as well because of that.
Andrew Lee Miller (26:59.362)
Matthew Todd (27:03.199)
Yeah, no, super interesting and taking a switch, I think we covered off a lot of really, really good points for startup founders and I don’t want them to listen to this and try and take too much on board, but looking at the things that startups actually are doing perhaps before they engage with yourself and start to work with you, what are some of the common mistakes that you see them making that you would advise anyone in that position and in that audience to avoid?
Andrew Lee Miller (27:33.122)
Great question. So one we already talked about was making a early marketing hire, like a full-time hire too early, but also someone that just comes from a really big brand or company logo to impress investors and stuff. Another one is, be driven by their gut. So as funny as it sounds, a lot of founders, especially if they’ve had previous success in different industries or with different projects,
who’s had a lot of success in different areas, you know, just listening to that non-
analytics based data is really bad. And I’ve seen, you know, you’re only supposed to listen to the data. There is no such thing as a bad idea. I mean one example that comes to my mind a long time ago and a client in the Czech Republic that fought me on the idea of blogging. He was just like, no blogging won’t work for this. Andrew, you don’t understand our industry. I mean it was a B2C mobile app. What are you talking about? You know, like we want to be
Andrew Lee Miller (28:41.652)
terms because Google will rank that article above a website. So if you search for how to do anything, top anything, you find usually listicles which are blog articles. So that was a… That company failed. And so usually that’s a sign to me that a founder is going to fail if they are against testing certain things. So test everything. No such thing as a stupid idea. Another thing is you know…
being reactive rather than preventative. So, I mean, many, many examples, not to bring up Airbnb again, but that’s a really famous one of, they growth hacked onto Craigslist. So Craigslist, not so famous in the UK, although it is there, but it was a huge classifieds website in the US, still about 50 billion page views a month. They got all their short-term listing content onto that website through a gray hat method
rather than being worried about being sued, all they got after six months of getting millions and millions of visits for free monthly, they got a cease and desist letter that the founder of the company just put in his office and framed it, you know. And so, I think the most successful startups are not worried about breaking a few eggs to make an omelet. You have to do that. You have to be, you know. So, when I work with European companies and I’m talking about sending a bulk email out, they’re like, oh, we can’t do this, GDPR that and
Matthew Todd (29:52.982)
Andrew Lee Miller (30:08.448)
to break any laws. I’m not telling you to break any laws whatsoever but if you know that there’s a ton of value in what you’re trying to do for the target you’re trying to help, you can be pretty aggressive and you can be you can worry about breaking the few eggs after the omelet’s been made.
Matthew Todd (30:27.179)
Yeah, interesting. Yeah, definitely, definitely good advice. And yeah, I think there’ll be a lot of interest to our audience, the founders. So thank you for sharing that. And so, yeah, I think it’s been really, really interesting conversation, but just to wrap things up before we go in terms of your own business, your own journey. Obviously, you mentioned the Startup Growth Book. I’d encourage founders to check out as well. But what do you have in terms of
Andrew Lee Miller (30:31.918)
Andrew Lee Miller (30:38.382)
Matthew Todd (30:56.963)
growth and developing your own business.
Andrew Lee Miller (31:00.018)
Yeah, so I’m really, really passionate about our Bootstrap coaching program right now. So the consulting agency is really limited to a select few companies that are raising significant amounts of capital. And usually they’re based in Silicon Valley. But if you are a founder of any kind of business that has not figured out marketing yet, and like I said, it’s never too early to start, this coaching program is low cost. We get you a full-time locally based junior marketer included.
in that program that it gets trained and hired and sourced and managed by me. And we have we go through those three phases that I mentioned and it’s just one hour weekly coaching with myself. So that would be the thing that I think is most interesting. You can learn more about that at growth experts with a Z at the end dot com. My name is Andrew startups and like Matthew mentioned the book is the startup growth book dot com. You can also find it on Amazon in the UK and everywhere else.
Matthew Todd (31:59.963)
Cool. Awesome. Perfect. I’ll make sure that all those links are in the show notes. But yeah, for now, thank you for spending the time today. Thank you for taking time to have this conversation. I certainly found it really, really enjoyable, really interesting myself. I know a lot of startup founders listen to this will do as well. And I’d certainly encourage them to look at their own marketing strategy and just to echo what you said, don’t go by their gut if that’s what they’re doing. Look at the data and what that tells them and make the right decisions based on that. So
Yeah, thank you for your time.
Andrew Lee Miller (32:30.83)
Thank you so much for having me, Matthew. Appreciate it. It was great to be here.
Matthew Todd (32:33.697)