– I saw you’ve got your BA in East Asia studies – so how did you decide to become an entrepreneur? Do you think it is necessary to have a degree in business? Tell us about your early business experience?Oh my… Actually, I need to update my profile as I never graduated. My initial plan was to learn East Asian studies while combining it with learning Chinese and Economics, but I sucked at both. In my second year (it was in 2006) I founded a web marketing agency with two partners. This agency grew fast so I had to put the studies behind me and after two years we had 30+ employees and two teams in India. I CEO’ed the company for 4.5 years and then I started my own gig where I consulted to mega brands on how to build huge in-house marketing teams.
Actual experience and “dirty hands” always overcame theoretical knowledge as far as it relates to my hiring decision-making.The main reason for that is to have someone that already “did it” on your team, meaning that he doesn’t just know what to do, but more importantly, he knows HOW to do it. And to know how, means that they understand processes, and processes are what’s important in any team’s dynamics. I can proudly say that many of my past employees are now VPs marketing, CMOs or executive directors in many leading startups, mainly in Israel, but also abroad, so as far as I’m concerned, this is the PoC (Proof of Concept) of my pragmatic approach of experience vs. knowledge.
– What motivated you to start Zest? Where did the idea come from?I love to consume content. Actually, I’m addicted to it. There, I said it! I know that as a marketing executive I can’t afford to miss out new doctrines, methodologies and updates. Hence I found myself skimming through dozens of articles each day. As time went by, I started to send relevant articles that I read to different people around me – current and past employees, new bosses, colleagues in the States and in Canada and so on. In most cases these guys told me that 1) They can’t understand how I found these value-added articles and 2) That this or that article is exactly what they needed right now. A few years later, as CMO at Webydo, I thought: “Well, why don’t I create a place where people will come to read the content that I think is the the most relevant, instead of me sending dozens of articles to so many people. I knew the right guys that could help me create Zest and so we started it as a side project. I must say that my co-founders took the original idea and completely revamped it to something that is far more visionary and bigger than my small initial idea. They created a growth monster.
– As with every startup, there must have been some mistakes and downfalls on the way? Can you share some of the lessons learnt?We had tons of mistakes. My first learned lesson was to be clear with our vision and stick to it. If we listened to all the feedback we gathered from our Alpha & Beta users and actually executed it, there would be no Zest today. Sometimes it just might take a bit before your targeted market is getting used to your solution. We created Zest by doing many iterations with our Alpha & Beta users, and although no one gave it a chance at the beginning, at some point, they got addicted to it – they understood the added value it’s giving them, they increased their usage and even shared it with their colleagues. As of today we have 8,000 WAU and around 92% of them came through WoM (Word of Mouth). The second lesson, and one that I think we are still making a mistake on is scale fast.
Once you understand that you’ve attained Product-Market Fit, stop all other things you are doing and push the pedal to the metal.
– What is the best and your favourite feature of Zest?Without a doubt it’s the social layer we added to Zest just before we launched on March 7th. I love it because it is also functioning as a sweet and authentic growth hack – marketers are following each other and see what type of articles their colleagues suggested on Zest, what articles they saved for reading later and it is giving an amplified, humanized experience to the product. It also puts front and center our agenda – we’re creating a tribe of marketers who unite around a clear purpose – creating the best content consumption platform by using our own tribe. It means that our tribe members (users) are suggesting content, and then a group of Chiefs (power-users) are reviewing these content suggestions and making sure that they are aligned with Zest’s content quality style guide. It’s a proactive, engaged community which is centered around consuming high-quality content that only professionals from the same segment can precisely determine the value for other professionals.
– What challenges do you face every day? How do you motivate yourself to stay productive?The work-life balance is currently my main challenge. As a co-founder of a bootstrapped startup that is scaling fast, I find myself working around the clock. It puts a strain on my other job, being a father of three daughters. What keeps me propelled is my supportive family, who understands my madness and also, our tribe’s feedback. We get around 20-30 different messages a day from marketers who love what we do and feel engaged with our agenda and movement.
– What are your goals over the next 6 months?We are on the right way to be profitable. This is our main focus. We prefer to be profitable rather than to raise funds. In 6 months from now we plan to expand into two more segments, other than marketing, and to integrate our content recommendation widget (yet to be launched), in 10-15 marketing related publishers and blogs.
– How do you attract new customers? Do you follow a certain strategy?It’s all about the community. I call this strategy “Community Growth” and it means keeping our communication with our tribe personal and almost face to face. Marketers told us that they are experiencing three main “Aha!” moments when using Zest – the first one is from the first encounter with the product. They say it is beautiful, fast and VERY intuitive. The second one is after they played around with it a bit, so they understand and appreciate its added value. It means that the content they consume is not only highly contextual but also it’s very valuable for them. The third Aha! moment is after they suggest an article. They get a personalized email from our Chief Moderator (me 🙂 ), which details the reason their suggested article was declined or accepted and published on the Zest feed. These three-phases of engagement creates a hyper-WoM effect.
– Can you share you book recommendations or any useful blogs talking about product marketing?I must admit that I’m not a book-reader kinda guy. I believe that the fact that I’m dyslexic is preventing me from enjoying this world of reading books. As for the best Product Marketing blogs:
- And of course https://blog.intercom.com/
– Lots of startups rely on forums to get traffic – did you have any experience with review platforms and forum posting? Did you find this effective?Forum Marketing and Comment Marketing are becoming tougher as time goes by. The main reason for that is that users are more sensitive to lack of authenticity. I didn’t try these methods with Zest, but with other startups I’m consulting, we saw great success with this method. I believe that a better method comes from a close marketing doctrine. What I’m doing at Zest is engaging Medium bloggers to try Zest out and to briefly write about their actual experience with the product and how it fits in with their daily routine. Actually, this was one of our product launch tactics and on the week of the launch, with about 30 Medium bloggers publishing their experience. That method proved to be super efficient and authentic.
– Do startups need a big investment? Is it possible to create and develop a company on a low budget?Definitely and without a doubt – YES. Marketers/founders should always think on how they can increase their exposure by collaborating with 3rd parties. Think about what the other side wants, and help them with it. They will help you in return to accomplish what you want to achieve.
– What is the biggest mistake you found most leaders make?Not circulating an idea or strategy with other people within their organization. As a CMO at Webydo (a 50+ employee company), I was amazed from the feedback we got from other departments when showing them our next campaign, brand-messaging strategy or just a simple landing page design.
Leaders must democratize their thought-process and procedures in order to engage their employees with their vision and to get a constructive feedback of what they plan on doing.