Ep. 106 | The Growth Marketing Hack of Authenticity to Build Your Audience

Josh Fechter built a million dollar business by being authentic and transparent with his audiences on LinkedIn and Facebook. Learn more about his growth marketing hacks in this conversation on the Rethink Marketing podcast.

Picture of Josh Fechter for the Rethink Marketing podcast where he shares some growth marketing hacks and strategies

NATHAN:  Josh, can you tell me more about yourself and BAMF Media?

JOSH FECHTER: Well first off, thank you for having me on. And give you a little bit of background, is we started off as a community around I believe it’s like four or five years ago now, it was actually just me hosting marketing events in San Diego, just looking to fill a void that not a lot of people were helping startups at the time learn tactical information. It was more of like here’s overall strategy and I really want to give more technical marketing lessons. And started doing that then, and kept doing those events for close to four years, and then eventually you have a choice of whether you’ve gotta go full time into it or not. And we ended up going full time and turning it into a business, which is the BAMF Media today. And now we do tactical marketing, or as we like to say, growth marketing for a lot of companies, especially startups.

NATHAN: And I read, maybe it was on a Forbes bio piece about you or somewhere else, that you landed a job with 22Social mostly through a 20 page growth marketing proposal. So can you just level set us and how do you define growth marketing or growth hacking?

JOSH: It’s actually a really funny story because I don’t suggest people do that to land a job. And the reason for that is, when I was in Silicon Valley, was VP of marketing for this mobile app startup that failed, it was similar to Tinder for jobs, and interviewed with Looker which is a big analytics platform today, I think they’re worth over a billion dollars. I interviewed with Grammarly and they’re worth over a billion dollars too. As well as a company called DrChrono and Marketo. And this is one of these companies where sort of no name companies at the time. And none of them hired me because I went in with these big proposals of how I could actually try to help them grow.

They were very much looking to put someone in an exact place, and less looking to bring on a head of growth at that point. The reason why I did work for that young company, the 22Social, is because they had seven people in the company when I joined. So they were looking for what I like to call an intrapreneur, so someone who’s inside a company but acts like an entrepreneur. And that’s what they needed. So that’s why they liked the proposal and brought me on. But for bigger companies it definitely doesn’t work.

In terms of what growth marketing is, I think it’s just a fancy word to say digital marketing except more ROI based. So looking at more into attribution, analytics, understanding the full picture when it comes to acquiring customers, whether that’s for B2B product at $5,000 a month, or something that’s more B2C at $10 a month.

NATHAN: You mentioned this earlier that you really kind of got started by building your audience. And then as that audience grew and that community became stronger, converting that or turning that into a way to be monetized. If you could do it all over again, would you do it that same way? Or what were the benefits and downsides of that sort of approach?

JOSH: I’ll say the one big benefit is that you learn what a great product is and what a great service looks like. For example, if I would’ve just started off and created a product or service without really understanding the marketing community and growth marketing in general, it would have probably been a pretty bad product, especially if you look at the marketing space, there’s bad products that come out every other day, because there’s not a lot of thought that’s been thrown into them.  And you see a lot of growth hacking products, but they only last six months to a year before they just go outdated. And maybe Facebook shuts off their API, Instagram shuts off their API, whatever it is that causes this company to go away.

So just being able to be in the space long enough to understand, okay, this is something that we can sell and this is something that’s really needed. But it takes a lot of time, just because it’s much harder than people realize. I don’t think people understand that if you look at all the products in a space, especially the marketing space, that there aren’t that many great products. It’s actually much fewer than people realize. There just happens to be a lot of products, right? But to create the few great ones and be in that category takes a lot of thought and a lot of expertise.

That’s why when I did work at — I was working at an investment firm called GrowthX. And we did a lot of smaller scale investments, mostly seed round. One of the things that we looked for is domain expertise, like has this person been in the industry for five years, or however long, and do they really know what they’re talking about. Because those are people that end up creating that product with great product market fit, right?

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NATHAN: It’s because they know their audience really that well. They’re much more intimate with their audience, rather than someone just coming in with an algorithm saying, oh yeah, I can sell to this group.

JOSH: 100 percent. So I guess the short answer is, I would do it again that way. Otherwise I think I would’ve made a ton of horrible mistakes in terms of releasing products and wasting money on just building random things. Like one of the things I almost built was this scraper tool that would scrape Facebook groups. And it just seemed like an easy product to create. And there’s a huge demand for it, I mean huge. And the two people that did create it I think both got around 1,000 customers in a month. But what ended up happening is Facebook went down and shut down their Facebook accounts or moved their site. So at the end of the day, it would have been a great product to create? Not so much.

So understanding the repercussions of what you create as well I think is just as important as understanding like, hey, is there a great product market fit here. Because that could’ve shut down my entire community overnight because we have a huge Facebook group. And if I release something like that and promoted it, we won’t have a Facebook group anymore.

NATHAN: And you mentioned your Facebook group and these communities that you’ve grown. Someone who introduced us was telling me that Mark Zuckerberg said that you were one of his favorite Facebook groups. You have a community of 20,000 plus on LinkedIn. And a lot of that growth that you’ve done and that building of those communities has been done with a, I would say, an authentic and vulnerable voice. You talk about — you talk a lot about your failures, or you’re at least honest about your failures. Is that the secret? And if it is, how does somebody learn to be vulnerable? We’re so used to being Facebook post perfect. How do you show being vulnerable and authentic?

JOSH: Yeah, it’s definitely I would say a key ingredient to building a community is being vulnerable, because it makes you relatable at the end of the day. Nobody’s perfect. And it’s hard to relate to perfect people. So for me talking about my failures in the startup world, a lot of people get that. And it’s a lot more people than I think most of us even realize. So for example, you have — building my own company at this point, understanding that even people who build their companies don’t even see themselves as successful. Because maybe they give away 95 percent of their company to investors. And they feel sort of like a slave in their own company, right?

So even they can relate when they’re doing $10 million a year in revenue towards your failures just trying to build your company. Because they may not see themselves as a success. And there’s this I would say sort of this fear in the industry that you aren’t really a success until you are generating a really strong amount of profit. But the problem is that we do get hooked into these cycles of that we owe our investors money or we’re too far into what we’re doing that we don’t feel like we can back out now. And just being relatable to those scenarios and saying, hey, like we’re all going through it, it’s okay. And that’s been absolutely huge in bringing people around me.

And it’s not — I wouldn’t say it’s really a secret. It’s sort of a known. I know Brene Brown, who’s very famous with her TED Talk talking about vulnerability. And she also wrote a book called Daring Greatly on the topic, mentions that as soon as you do that, you sort of become this central figure that people can see themselves as relatable to. And I think the hard part is the actual communication of it and understanding how to communicate. So I can be as vulnerable as I want in terms of ready to let go of a story. But if I don’t know how to communicate those stories through written form, or through video, or whatever it is online, then I get stuck. All I have is a story at the end of the day that nobody can really understand.

So I think the beautiful part about my ability to create the community was not necessarily my ability to be vulnerable, was that I had been writing every day for five years. So I knew that if I had a story, I could communicate it well.

NATHAN: And I think, yeah, we can get into this later on, but I think some of the approaches you did with communicating that story, your — I don’t know if they’re hacks, but the simple sentences, one sentence per paragraph, that type of thing, on a LinkedIn post. But before we get there, you talk about vulnerability. I’m just wondering, and that speaks to a person at an individual level, and I can try and find ways to be more vulnerable. How about companies? Do you think companies could do this to the same effect, showing some vulnerability? Or do they just expose themselves to the talking points of their competitors later on?

JOSH: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I do think that companies can be more vulnerable. But it starts with the individuals that’s inside the companies, particularly the founder. People say, well, you know, if it’s a 2,000 person company, how do you expect the founder to go out and be vulnerable on social media. And I feel Facebook is a perfect example. Mark Zuckerberg for a while was making videos, and you’d see them through your newsfeed every so often, of him talking about the culture at Facebook. And then you’d see interviews with employees at Facebook going through your newsfeed. They understand how to recruit people better than anybody else. They’re so good at it.

But you don’t see IBM or other companies doing that same type of content through their newsfeed. You don’t see those employee stories, you don’t see their founder coming out and saying, hey, this is what we’re up to, this is our culture, this is me talking with one of the teams. And that’s stuff that they should be doing. There’s a reason why Facebook is so successful. And a big part of it is because of that vulnerability and that culture that they have of promoting those stories. And the product is always a part of what makes them successful. But in order to have a successful product, you need successful people. And it always comes down to how do you get those people on board. And I would say Facebook is by far the best example of that in terms of how they’ve done it with content.