We recently hosted an Ask Me Anything session with the digital marketing community GrowthHackers.
As there were so many great questions and a surprising variety of topics, it felt like a good idea to also document ‘em in this blog. I also reviewed the answers and added bits and pieces to give more context + suggest further reading.
Up next, you’ll find a mix of marketing advice, career confessions, and opinions on a range of marketing-related subjects, from how to get published in TOP marketing blogs to the “agencies vs in-house team” debate.
The Q&A is categorized under a few headlines, so feel free to navigate to the sections that interest you the most.
- Growth hacking
- Learning as a marketer
- Online advertising
- Reporting and measurement
- Rebranding (from Taxify) to Bolt
- Content marketing
- Career and work-life
P.S. if you have any additional questions, you can still submit these on the GrowthHackers AMA page.
One last thing… I’ve had a few people reach out to me and ask how did I get picked out by GrowthHackers for the AMA. I just wrote to them saying I’d like to do one. They said yes.
🚀 On growth hacking
Q1: Can you talk about an experiment that was a really big win or led to some breakthrough insights at Bolt? – Taavi Kalvi
When I joined Bolt in 2017, one of my first tasks was to come up with better creatives for our Facebook ad campaigns. So I figured what people care about most when ordering a ride… Duh, the cost of the ride, of course!
I created a new type of Facebook carousel ad that no other app in the industry was using yet. The carousel ad included 5 cards with popular routes in a city and showed the average cost of the specific ride (which was much lower than with regular taxis).
These ads picked up super well and are still one of our top performers. We even see some competitors using the same ad format now. 😄
Q2: What has been your number one learning/lesson from your entire marketing career? – Liis Laisaar
One of the things I learned early on is that you should always try to go a bit wild and test things that others haven’t tried yet. A lot of the best-performing marketing hacks/projects are not shared in marketing blogs.
So, you should make up your own.
For example, when working on content marketing and SEO in the project management software startup Scoro, I had an idea to compile a list of 50+ project management tools, include Scoro as #3, and thereby be listed as the first Google search result for the “best project management tools” keyword.
First, my manager was strongly against the idea: why would we promote our competitors?
However, I kept pushing to test out the idea and it worked: our listicle soon ranked as #1 result on Google and we got thousands of website visits and tens of new leads from there every month.
Today, Scoro has published more than ten similar list articles and these make up a huge part of their website’s organic traffic.
A good starting point for coming up with original ideas is to first define the goal you want to achieve. As you know the outcome, it’s much easier to figure out how to get there.
Q3: If you were giving a lecture at university to a group of MSc. students in a marketing/entrepreneurial class, what philosophies, tools or books would you share with them? – Taavi Kalvi
I recently wrote a blog article on how to learn marketing where I shared all the advice I wish someone had given me when finishing high school.
I’d say that the most crucial skills for every marketer are creative problem-solving and critical thinking, as well as writing skills and understanding the basic foundation on how human psychology works.
You can find the list of my all-time favorite marketing and branding books here: 49 Best Marketing Books – New and Classics
Q4: Have you ever a situation where you had been skeptical about some idea, but as a result, it proved a great move? What was that? – Maksymilian Plociennik
My manager at Bolt who taught me to be a lot more critical and always question the ROI of different projects. Whenever my team proposes something that I don’t think is a good idea, we talk it through and see if we can run a small-scale test to check the ROI.
For example, we tested animated Facebook ads some time ago and they performed worse than static ads. So we paused the ads and didn’t waste any more time scaling the video ads to additional Facebook campaigns.
Fast forward 6 months, we tried different a type of video ads (longer ones, another design) and they performed much better. So it’s always worth to test all ideas you think may bring results and even revisit some tests multiple times.
On the other hand, there have also been many cases where I’m skeptical about an idea but still agree with the team to run a test. Even if the test fails, it’s still a success in the sense that we’ll know it in the future and won’t do the same mistake twice.
NB, make sure to document your tests!
Q5: What do you recommend for someone getting started from scratch on building their personal brand? – Saura Johnston
Based on my experience, a good way to get started is by creating a blog and writing about the topic you want to be known for. This can also be some other channel, e.g. Instagram. Also, guest blogging and interacting with people on LinkedIn or closed Facebook groups doesn’t hurt.
For the past few years, I’ve received all my job offers via this blog or LinkedIn as people have read my blog or know me via a network of mutual marketer friends.
I recently started an Instagram account project about our houseplant hobby with a friend.
The key takeaway from this Instagram project is that it’s HARD to grow followership.
It takes a lot of persistence and continuity to build up an extensive following on the platform. To push through, you must be truly passionate about the topic you’re building your personal brand around.
Another good starting point is to look at the websites or social media profiles of people who have already made it. Scroll down to their very first posts and see how they got started and which parts of their content gained traction.
⭐ On building a marketing team
Q6: What has proven to be the key deciding factor when recruiting new people to your team? (Which qualities make the best team members and employees in marketing (e.g. experience, willingness to learn <– how to validate this, etc.?) – Liis Laisaar
Having interviewed tens and tens of people while growing the team in Bolt, I realized at some point that you will get the right feeling during the interview if a person is a good match to the team. There’s a kind of special connection and understanding that you get when meeting the right candidate to a position. Things like speaking at the same terms, understanding each others’ questions, having similar opinions on specific topics…
I always look for the proactive “let’s get things done” attitude and evaluate the candidate’s home task and previous work experience. I never look at a marketing candidate’s educational profile as this is not what matters (at least not in Bolt and most other successful tech companies).
I also like to hire people with good copywriting skills and a creative problem-solving-oriented mindset.
Additionally, I follow the rule of “If it’s not a YES!! it’s a no” when hiring. If a candidate doesn’t seem to be the perfect fit for the role, we’ll just keep looking rather than making the wrong hire.
Once you’ve hired someone, you’ll spend tens of hours onboarding and training that person. So you should only hire people if you think they are the very best person to fill the role.
Q7: How do you set up your team KPIs? Do you work with some framework, e.g. OKR? – Karolina Krolicka
The global marketing team at Bolt is currently using a quarterly OKRs approach. We make sure that all OKRs are measurable and directly linked to the projects that a particular team member is working on.
Which leads me to a book that everyone in a high-level management position I know recommends (so do I): High Output Management by A. Grove.
Q8: What is the ideal marketing team structure? – Vasyl Sergienko
There isn’t one single ideal marketing team structure that would fit all companies. But all marketing teams benefit from having clear ownership of projects, clear reporting structure, and team leads not having more than 8 direct reports.
Example team structure by CoSchedule– Image source
I personally like to keep the global marketing team functions centralized in the HQ rather than, for example, having a separate Facebook marketing function in every market.
Also, I would rather build a central marketing team with clear ownership for every function. And only then start to split their resources per region as the company expands to more markets. Instead of building a fully functional marketing team for every different region.
Q9: I saw on Bolt’s website that you are currently hiring for marketing roles in 4 different countries. I’d love to hear more about your experience leading an internationally distributed team. What are some challenges you have faced? How do you handle communication and deliverables among many locations? – Hale Schneider
I’d say that the main challenge is always finding the best people, no matter where they’re located. Also, as our HQ marketing team is based in Tallinn, Estonia, it’s a bit harder to find people with international experience than, say, in London.
However, note my answer to the previous question: We still prefer to hire to the centralized team over building out regional marketing teams with all functions.
The good thing is that Bolt is a very international company and we have teams in 30+ countries around the world. So we have built up a strong information-sharing system that involves internal wikis, Slack channels, and regular all-hands meetings where the information is shared between everyone globally.
Markets where Bolt operates
I’ve gotten used to discussing things with people on Slack or via a call that having a team that’s based across multiple locations is a natural way of working.
We always set quarterly OKRs and focus for each team and give them relatively much freedom on achieving those results.
Q10: How to balance between creativity and data-driven culture? – Vasyl Sergienko
First of all, you can also be creative around the ways of interpreting the data.
Different people can look at the same data and come up with different takeaways. Also, you need to be creative to come up with new ideas to improve the results reflected through data. So I’d say that the data-driven and creative approaches go very much hand in hand in today’s marketing.
Q11: Agency or in-house? Why? – Liis Laisaar
I always prefer in-house marketing teams to agencies as the people’s motivation to grow the business, test new things and get results is times higher.
In-house people genuinely care about the company and go the extra mile to make things work. Having worked in and with agencies, I have seen projects often handed over to interns which can lead to low-quality work and poor results. It also takes a ton of time to onboard agency people and to keep communicating with them on a daily basis to approve ideas and changes.
In Bolt, we’re growing so fast and changing things up all the time, so we need to be able to get new campaigns live in less than 1-2h sometimes. This would never be possible when working with an advertising agency.
I do see a benefit to using local agencies if there’s a need for local contacts to execute a one-time marketing/PR campaign.
Agree with the PROs in this chart – Image source
💸 On online advertising
Q12: What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to improve the performance of their PPC campaigns? – Taavi Kalvi
This really depends on the campaign… But that’s not the answer you were hoping for. 😀
Usually, the biggest PPC mistake is looking at the wrong metrics and KPIs in the first place.
Let’s say your goal is to get new B2B clients for a SaaS tool. So you optimize your campaign on getting new leads. When trying to improve your campaign results, you want to increase the number of leads or lower the CPA (cost per acquisition) of leads. While optimizing on this, you may forget to look at the quality of the leads, so you may end up with more leads with lower quality. So always try to optimize your PPC campaign performance towards more revenue, not mid-funnel or vanity metrics.
Another mistake is always optimizing your PPC campaigns around the same thing.
For example, you want to optimize your Google Search PPC campaigns, so you add new keywords + negative keywords. Maybe, instead of working on this, you should test another channel (like Facebook/Instagram) or another campaign type instead. Or another target audience.
As I’m already ranting on the topic, I also often see Facebook marketers A/B testing small changes. It’s generally more efficient to run tests with variations that are clearly different (e.g. not the color of a CTA button but an entirely different creative vs the current one).
A/B test with visible changes in variations
Q13: Which do you prefer when entering a new market: a) start wide and get maximum exposure OR b) start with as specific targeting as possible and expand later based on already collected data? Why? – Liis Laisaar
It depends on the product and your marketing budget.
In Bolt, we’re marketing a consumer product relevant to most people, so we can use wide targeting in our online ads and let Facebook and Google algorithms to optimize our campaigns based on results.
If you’re marketing a niche product, I’d recommend starting narrower. If you already have a user base, I recommend using Facebook Lookalike audiences.
Q14: What is your approach to influencer marketing? How do you measure its success? – Ane Voje
We have a very data-driven approach to all marketing activities and influencer marketing is no different. We measure the CPA of new users acquired through our influencer marketing activities by counting the referrals made with each influencer’s unique referral code. We also check the reach and CPM of the influencers’ posts and compare it to our other online channels’ metrics.
Q15: What needs to be done to perfectly grow your business throughout the social channels? – Soner Alemdar
A: I’d say that the key thing to succeed in social channels is to constantly create value to your audience. This can mean sharing useful advice, giving away free stuff, informing people about special offers – whatever people can benefit from.
For example, Bolt shares relevant blog articles for drivers
Also, as the organic reach on Facebook is very low (as low as 2% of your page likes), you should always put some boosting budget behind each post.
You can find more social media marketing best practices here: 28 Facebook Ad Hacks for Social Media Growth
Q16: What would you do, if you have to lead a business in the grey market? You know, in a situation, where you can’t promote your brand on Facebook, Reddit, etc. – Maksymilian Plociennik
Tricky… And truth be told, I haven’t marketed such a product before. My first approach would be to find industry influencers and try working with them. Also, building virality to the product so it will pass from person to person. And testing out affiliate marketing.
Q17: Should a new company first focus on client acquisition only or should branding also start from the get-go? – Andreas Velling
You need to understand your brand’s mission and key value proposition from the get-go. But especially with new brands, earning some revenue and getting to the first 1000 paying users should be the priority, so I’d focus on acquisition campaigns first.
You don’t necessarily need to run brand-only marketing campaigns, but can integrate the branded message in acquisition ads.
🤓 On reporting and measurement
Q18: What do you think about marketing automation and who is responsible for that in the team? – Vasyl Sergienko
Marketing automation is a highly relevant project when working with a large scale of users. In Bolt, we have multiple teams working on automation, for example, our Lifecycle marketing team.
Q19: This is a very open-ended and more of a process question and how you go about things but with Bolt being in different markets, how are you able to work and adjust as best you can in creating and executing marketing plans for the different product offerings in each market? I can imagine what “success” or “failure” in one market can be totally different for another. You may have already covered a little bit of this with Mr. Hale Schneider’s question. – Kian Paras
We’re able to use quite a global approach when it comes to marketing in specific countries. Our product offering is not that different from market to market and we focus on promoting our main service above others.
However, we work with local teams to understand each market’s specifics. If you compare Bolt’s social media or blog to some of our competitors, we’re still much more local in our approach.
Q20: How do you approach branding/awareness? Is this just a “side-product” of having the right messages or do you have separate branding campaigns? – Andreas Velling
We do not run a lot of branding-only marketing campaigns as we’re a highly performance-driven company and like to work on things that we can measure.
However, we’ve set the key brand messages and all our performance marketing campaigns and most social media posts also revolve around those messages.
Recently, we launched a green initiative to make all Bolt rides in Europe carbon neutral. It’s a good combination of branding mixed with digital communication channels.
Social media post on the Green Plan
There’s another reason we don’t focus on branding campaigns: as our main brand asset is our product. As long as we’re providing the best ride-hailing experience in a city, we’ll get new users through word-of-mouth and keep the existing ones happy as well.
⚡ On rebranding (from Taxify) to Bolt
Q21: What was your approach for the launch campaign – which channels and assets did you find most valuable and why? – Kati Kuustik
As I set out to work on the first rebranding campaign I’d ever done, I was surprised by how little information about rebranding you can find online. There were literally no articles sharing usable know-how on how to rebrand a company. Only stuff on “how to pick your brand’s name” = useless.
During rebranding, our most valuable channels were those that helped us reach the highest number of our app users: PR, in-app messages, and emails.
We also used other marketing channels like online ads to communicate about the brand name change from Taxify to Bolt. Also, Google Search ads were very helpful in making sure that people will find our website and app store listing with both the old and new brand name.
I’ve found that there are quite many articles on how to do the rebranding / decide if you should rebrand, but very little information mostly on how to approach the launch of the new rebrand.
Q22: What goals did you set for the rebranding launch? – Kati Kuustik
Our main goal was not to lose users and the volume of rides not to drop. There were, of course, a set of lower-level goals that every involved team monitored.
Q23: If you had to do it again, what would you do differently? Or what were your biggest learnings? – Kati Kuustik
The thing with rebranding is that you probably (and hopefully) only get to do it once. 😅
If I had to help a company go through a rebranding again, I would focus on planning early on, having clear timelines, and making sure that all teams follow it. Which is what exactly happened in Bolt and why our rebranding went (almost) smoothly. Although there are always some last-minute surprises…
I’d also start preparing the new brand’s marketing assets and CVI (in case you want to change it) earlier and upload all new ad campaigns in advance. It took our 2-person advertising team weeks to replace all of our 5000+ online ad creatives.
🎡 On content marketing
Q24: What’s the biggest challenge for a B2C company related to content marketing strategy? – Eduarda Lemos
In my opinion, the biggest challenge for all brand blogs is understanding how to create extra value for your users that they can’t find elsewhere.
For example, at Bolt we focus on blog articles that share useful information to our drivers. This information is much harder to find compared to lifestyle-related advice for riders (as there are so many blogs and magazines already creating this type of content).
Q25: How do you manage the content production process understanding that each country has different personas/language, etc.? – Eduarda Lemos
We try to keep our blog content as evergreen and universal as possible and localize it to many languages. Sometimes, our local teams also write additional blog content targeted at their market specifically.
At some point I started to write English copy while thinking how it would sound in Estonian or French, to make sure everything is easy to localize to our 20+ languages.
Q26: Aside from your blog, I’ve read a lot of your guest posts in different blogs and platforms. I am a little biased towards the Copy Hackers one and KlientBoost as my favorites among your written guest posts but the Adespresso ones and Entrepreneur piece are up there too. What was your mindset like early on in figuring out which blog/publication/platform to pitch and how did you pitch to guest post or wrote for them? – Kian Paras
I started out pitching to 10+ marketing blogs, and it was very hard to get in initially. Once you already have a few strong articles in good blogs (in my case, HubSpot and AdEspresso) you can pitch to the next ones and will have proof of your writing quality to present.
You can read more about my guest blogging journey here: After Guest Blogging 50+ Articles, Here’s What I Learned
However, note that you won’t get much extra traffic to your blog from guest posting. For example, when I published an article in Entrepreneur, only nine readers looked up my profile and website.
The main value you’ll get from guest publishing is:
- additional blogging and podcast invitations
- job offers and help requests
- high-quality backlinks
🎢 On career and work-life
Q27: What’s an average workday look like for you? – Mary Green
My regular workday is always full of surprises, project managing some marketing campaigns, attending meetings & job interviews, discussing ideas with the team, and sharing information between teams.
But my favorite days are the ones where I disconnect from Slack and email for 4h or longer and focus on macro-level planning and improving the current team/reporting structure.
Q28: What is your biggest struggle currently? – Karolina Krolicka
When growing as fast as Bolt, you run into a lot of struggles.
I’d say the biggest challenge is understanding the business impact and ROI of all the different online and offline marketing activities that we’re doing.
We’re testing and learning something new every month, adding layers of data analytics to our campaign reporting and improving the attribution between different marketing channels.
Q29: How much of your life is dedicated to learning your craft and improvement? I love hearing how others invest in their craft. – Rob Fulton
I feel that I can learn the fastest through my work. Also, running a blog around Facebook advertising helps me stay aware of all the best practices and latest hacks.
I like to research what other top brands are doing and do a monthly review of their social media channels and blogs. Another great way to learn about new best practices is to talk to other marketers. You can even reach out on LinkedIn and propose to have a call and share your key learnings.
Also, whenever I’ve got time, I follow some industry newsletters and listen to podcasts.
I shared a long list of blogs, books, podcasts, and newsletters I like in this article, might be helpful: https://karolakarlson.com/2018-key-learnings-facebook-ads-marketing/
Q30: I remember reading your work and learning a little bit about your career profile while I was doing college internships and I only graduated in 2017. From the outside, it makes it seem like you “Bolt(ed)” upwards so quickly (jk, bad pun) or rose up relatively quickly but you may see it differently.
What is your work-life balance/integration prioritization or however you call it like, especially when you were just getting started!? Because you have Bolt, the blog, possibly other side hustles, and clients although you did mention you do not have the capacity at the moment, and possibly other hobbies and personal pursuits. You may have alluded to it with Ma’am Mary Green’s question but gosh it makes it look like you worked 24/7 to get where you are at. I personally think it’s super cool with all you’ve done so far and I can imagine some of your best work is yet to come. 🙂 – Kian Paras
About the work-life balance… I guess that early in my career I was so into marketing, looking at it as my job, hobby, relationship… (kidding about the last one :p)… But seriously, I think I easily worked at least 60h per week, also spending the Sundays working on either planning for Botl or writing to my blog.
By now, I’ve taken a step back and try to limit my workweek to 50h max. It’s become more about managing my time and focusing on the high-impact items only, removing meetings from my schedule, and learning to say “no” to more low-efficiency projects.
However, I believe that if you find a career you’re really passionate about, working the extra 20h per week doesn’t feel like a burden. Instead, you’ll be thrilled to learn by doing.
I would also say that I was very lucky to have the right opportunities to enter my life at the right time. E.g. I got an email from the CEO of Klientboost inviting me to freelance for their blog and Bolt reached out to me just as I was about to leave my past company. So it’s all about doing good work and noticing the good opportunities as they arise. You’ll be offered cool jobs only if you put yourself out there.