Ivan Kirigin: Growth is a systematic approach to hitting company goals

This interview is with Ivan Kirigin, Founder and CEO of YesGraph, and the former Head of Growth at Dropbox. He will be speaking at the next Uncharted Minds event titled, From Growth Hacking to Growth Marketing Featuring Slack, AdRoll, Hired, BrightFunnel and YesGraph on July 27th. Click here to get 20% off tickets.

Q. Please introduce yourself and tell us about your background.

A. I’m Ivan Kirigin, Founder and CEO of YesGraph. I’m got obsessed with growth back in 2008 after my first startup failed. That experience left me with a pretty big chip on my shoulder. I then went to work at Facebook and after that Dropbox, where learned a lot about how to build a great product and help them grow.

Q. How would you define Growth Hacking or Growth Marketing? Are they just terms popularized by trendy firms in Silicon Valley? Or do they represent a new approach marketing and lead generation?

A. Growth is a systematic approach to hitting company goals and requires marketing, product design, data analytics, and of course engineering. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Some folks are obsessed with defining labels, but at Silicon Valley startups, this isn’t even a discussion. A focus on growth is table stakes for the best tech companies.

The biggest problem I see is unreasonable expectations about what growth hacking can achieve. So I hope people dig into the details and get to work.

Q. Can you provide an example?

A. Lead generation is a good example. With the right tools, a marketer could run an A/B test on a landing page and boost conversion on a lead-gen form. But, it would take more engineering and data analysis to understand the connection between, for example, the in-app behavior of leads from different traffic sources to that lead-gen form. Or to customize the product experience in a way that an A/B copy test just couldn’t.

Q. How is this different from what was traditionally viewed as marketing?

A. Marketing teams traditionally didn’t have enough influence over product development, and often lacked access to engineering resources. Marketers also lack the technical ability to understand large, complex data sets. In short, it’s very different from traditional marketing.

That said, I tend to think the hard parts of marketing are underrated. Explaining a complex product with short and succinct description is a herculean task. Connecting on an emotional level with your customers requires immense empathy.

Q. Is there a place still for the softer and less data-driven disciplines like public relations and brand building? Are Growth Hacking and Growth Marketing only for startups?

A. You’re cheating with two questions at once, but I won’t hold it against you.

Public relations or PR is awesome and powerful. I think telling a compelling story to the right audience has incredible value and the people that do it well deserve their sometimes enormous consulting fees. That said, ask a PR team about attribution, and they will freeze like a rabbit in the headlights. The collective incompetence of the PR industry in failing to attribute outputs to their inputs boggles my mind. It makes them seem like they are hiding something.

Growth isn’t just for startups. Again, unreasonable expectations about what growth can do are everywhere. So I recommend people dive into the details and learn what they can apply to their own companies.

Q. For teams or individuals who are looking to build a career in marketing, what skills would you recommend that they invest in learning?

A. I recommend people build a broad base and then dive deep into specific topics.

Learn enough about engineering to understand how a product gets built. Know enough math to understand common tasks like AB testing and user behavioral analysis. The same could be said for a broad, basic understanding of marketing and design.

Once you have a solid base, go deep on a specific topic. The good news is that the best way to learn is to dive into a project. For example, if a marketing project involves millions of web pages, you probably need to learn a lot about SEO. If you’re building a social product, learn about referral systems, social re-engagement channels, and social design. If you’re building a Kickstarter-type project, you’ll want need to become a both community management and performance marketing expert.