How the Bottom Up Adoption Model Contributes to a Long-Lasting Brand

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In this episode, we talk to Joanie Wang, Director of Marketing and Brand at Expensify 

Yeah. Hey everyone welcome back to be, to be growth. My name is Olivia Hurley and today I'm joined by Joni wang who is the director of marketing and brand at expense if I Tony, how are you doing today? Hey Libya, It's great to be here. Thanks for having me on. How about you? I'm doing super. I'm glad it's, it's close to the weekend. Um, johnny, you and your team at expense. If I have really flipped around some traditional marketing strategies and have taken on a bottom up adoption model. Um, I'm super curious of the, why, what, how when of that? But I'm also really interested in talking to you about how you've supercharged this bottom up adoption model with a vision for building a long lasting brand. Um, can we, can you tell me what a bottom up adoption model is and what it looks like it expense if I yeah, definitely. Um, so to jump right in uh, expensive eyes customer acquisition model, what we call it a bottom up adoption model. And basically, it means, rather than focusing on the top of funnel the decision makers, the people buying the software, we focus on building our product for the end user, the people who are experiencing the pain point that could include Hagman's as well. But generally it would mean for expense management company that we focus on the people who are trying to reconcile their expenses, who are traveling, who are buying things on behalf of their company. And so when we say that we have a bottom of adoption model, it means that we are creating a product for that end user, making sure that it addresses their pain points and ensuring that all of entering that they're able to adopt our product regardless of if they're admin ends up buying or not. I'm curious why did Spence if I expensive I take that approach. Yeah. So, you know, typically...

...at most b to B companies, you focus on the decision maker, right? They're the ones who signed the contracts and um Procure Software and find solutions for in order to reconcile their books or whatever the business objective is. And so what we realized uh were two things was one it's much more powerful to create a product for the person who's actually using it because they're because they're the ones who are actually using it, they do have an impact on what gets adopted, right? Because at the end of the day, the goal is to get all that data, put it into your accounting software and do it as quickly as possible and as efficiently as possible. And so what we wanted to do was so one um that's kind of the focus and then of course there are way more employees at a company just from a numbers perspective versus decision decision makers. Right. And so if you're able to um approach every single one of these individuals and monetize them and have them be basically a champion or buyer of your product, then all of a sudden you have a lot more entry points in uh in terms of creating adaptability in of your product in that company. And so from um even from our origins, that expense, if I, you know, we've always been, you know, a mobile app, we launched just after Apple released their camera feature. And so a lot of it has to do with enabling the person experiencing the problem to be able to find solutions that can solve that for them. Yeah, well I am a huge fan of you know, putting agency in the hands of employees, so I think that's so cool. So I'm curious though, just to somebody who's not intimately familiar with the bottom of adoption, how is this different from standard marketing procedure? It means that even though we are a B two B product, we have a B to C marketing strategy. Right? And so...

...that's why you'll see, you know, our campaigns are geared towards the consumer, the end user, you know, the people who are around you, who are experiencing everyday life versus specific people with a specific function. So that's why we were able to, for example, launch a Super Bowl ad campaign that featured, you know, a hip hop music video. We created our own soundtrack. Uh, and we created an entire experience around that. And um, versus, you know, having something a little bit more typical of what you might expect from expense management software on a BdP product. Did that just on the marketing team did not allow for creativity to abound because you weren't strictly marketing to decision makers, but rather this BBC play absolutely what it enabled us to do with kind of think outside the box of, you know, what are we as a product really trying to do? And, you know, we were working with our internal team as well as an external agency and we were thinking, what is again, what is the pain point we're trying to solve, right? And where we landed on at the time, our campaign model, for example, was like the idea of you weren't born to do expenses. And so that really, you know, even that slogan in itself really focused on anybody, right? Because no one really was born to do expenses, expensive stock you want to spend as little time as possible in that. And with that kind of slogan and you know, brand message, we were able to kind of think completely outside of the box because all of a sudden the audience we were addressing was anybody who had this problem versus a very small steps that and we were able to get creative super creative, I love that I had a extremely brief tenure in a position right out of college where I was in charge of expenses and resolving and you know, budget and things like that and I will say brief because I hated it...

...so deeply, it was this like you know, a very scary thing to have to manage, but also I feel like I don't know what I'm doing um and having something like that, I love that you say we are important, too expensive expenses because it not only like you know, puts power in the hands of the people who are doing those things, but it gives them back so much time and I certainly would have would have benefited from that. So speaking of that, what are the key ingredients for a successful bottom up adoption model? Yeah. Um, at the heart of this model is, you know, getting people excited about your product and getting people to talk about your product unprompted on their own wherever they are, right? So it could be in a business meeting, could be at their company, could also just be, you know, on a weekend when you're hanging out with your friends and someone's complaining or venting about processes at work or whatever. Right? And so I think the key ingredient is to, from BBB standpoint to have a well designed product that's very easy for someone to pick up and learn and start using. And if you're solving what their problem is. And in this case for us it was people are spending a ton of time on expenses at the end of the month when they could be doing something else. They will rave about it to their friends because you're making their life easier allowing them to spend more time on whatever it is that they want to do. And so how did you generate word of mouth at the very beginning? Yeah. Great question. Um, expense if I basically, we launched our app in the app store in I think about 2009 or 2010 and that was right after Apple launched, um, the camera functionality. And so what we were able to do was we built our app with that camera like smart scan technology. And that was really what pivoted us instead differentiated us from the rest of the market. At that time. We were the only ones with an uh an expense app that you can just bring along on your phone. And what that meant was that you could just take a...

...picture of your receipt. We will, our OcR technology will read the merchant date and amount and just automatically categorize that for you so that you didn't really have to do anything. And that was a difference maker because no one at the time again had an app. No one we're was able to use OcR too automate that process. And so I think when, you know, people got sick and tired of their processes, their super unable to find their own solutions and we just happened to be super lucky that the app store just came out and they were promoting, you know what apps were on there and we were one of them. And so we're kind of quickly spread that way. And as well as just from our users, right? People who are downloading it, seeing how easy it was to capture their receipts on the go while they were traveling for business or conferences or things like that. And we just kind of grew like wildfire from there. Oh, that's awesome. It's so cool. It's so cool to talk to people who are at companies that were first movers in their space and you're definitely one of those fuel. That's awesome. How does having such a loyal customer profile on base? How does that help you with building a long lasting company to? Yeah, I think every loyal customer you have is essentially, you know, someone who is willing to talk about your product and tell others about it without us asking, right? And you know, it's much stronger if one of your friends tells you how great expense if I is versus if I tell you how great expensive I is, right? Because obviously I work here, so I'm going to tell you that. Um, and so what we like what kind of went hand in hand with our bottom up adoption model was this idea of word of mouth we were spreading because people were excited about what we were able to do and when we were and what they were able to do with our product without getting permission from, from whoever it is that their company. Because you could use expensive I for...

...free and you still can man, that's so cool when you and your team talk about the components of a long lasting brand and building, building a company that's made for longevity. What are some of the key things you keep coming back to that have to be there? Yeah, that's a great question I would say. The first thing is to really root your brand and your company in the team's core values and beliefs and what I mean by that is that if you are pushing out a brand that, you know, people don't necessarily align with or that's not natural, then it gets very hard to keep that up over time, Right? So it's a very simple example of this is, you know, if it's very hot to be a green company right now, right? But if there is no basis in your company being like pushing forward green initiatives or being eco friendly, then you'll probably do it for as long as it's popular, but you're not really, you're not, but once it's not popular, you're going to stop doing that and then all of a sudden your image changes, right? And there's no uh, consistency in that kind of brand and that kind of image. And so when there's inconsistency in a brand, then you one stop. It's hard to attract super loyal brand followers and people who love your product and what you stand for. And to, it's really hard um, to keep the ones that you know, initially did come to your brand as a result of them believing that you have the same, you know, values. And so I would say, you know, definitely make sure you your internal brand in your external brand have, you know, they don't have to be 100% the same, but certainly the, the driving foundational forces should overlap. And then I would say the second key ingredient is to focus both on evergreen. Um, brand long term brand concepts as values as well as cultural relativity, right? Because...

...one will help you forged a strong and consistent identity. Um, that will naturally draw in like minded consumers and the other cultural relativity will help you identify points in which your brand, your company can enter the conversation and be relevant to, you know, what's going on in the world. You mentioned having the external and the internal brand be built around some of these same tenants, but that they don't have to match exactly are their processes and systems built into the internal team at expense. If I that that also had for this long lasting, that also support the long lasting brand endeavors. Yeah, definitely. Um, I would say that, you know, I'm kind of preaching well, we do, right. Um, in terms of we have a really strong belief in creating a human based company, right? And what that means to me is that you think about a workplace that you want, you know, we spend a lot of time at work and so you want to think about like What kind of environment do I want to spend 40 or 50 hours a week at? And what kind of people do I want to be surrounded by? And what kind of um processes can allow for that, right? And so, for example, um one of the things that we really push forward is this idea of a flat organization, so nobody has any ones manager and you can kind of proposed projects as you are excited that you are excited about that help our overarching goals. And so that kind of comes from the core belief of, you know, people get bored if you if you make them do the same thing over and over and over again, right? It's fine if you have a marketing department, for example where one person does email marketing one person does S. C. 01 person does advertising but at some point they're going to get bored of that because they're not learning new things, they're not solving new...

...problems. Um And so they leave right? Because that's the way that your company is structured. And so the approach we tried to take is to make sure that people are having interesting things that they can solve or focus on. Which means that you know we have a pretty flat organization and we also allow people to kind of hop in between departments so to speak right and kind of focus on things that may not be what they were originally hired for as long as it um At the bottom line. Oh man that's so cool. So tell me a little bit more about that. Are there for the people who are like I've never seen anything like this. How does this function in actuality? You know? How do you keep clarity Around responsibilities while also allowing people to go where their interests lie? Yeah, I think that's so what we do is we have an internal document called What's next that guides our overarching vision as well as practical short term milestones. When I say short term, I mean you know in the next 1-2 years. Right? And so we generally follow this road map. It's something that everyone in the company agrees on. And if you don't know what to work on or you don't have an idea, you can always refer to this document to make and and pick something up. Right? And you know whether you're you're primarily an engineering or marketing or sales or whatever it is, there's every component of those functions like our exist in most projects. And so the one we have that what's next talk to guide the long term like or the short term, sorry, projects in the next one or two years and in terms of like figuring out and encouraging people to follow their interests, there is we have like a mentor program. Right? And so you can choose your mentors from any department and they will help you focus on your both personal and professional goals and find ways to tie that together. An example is my mentor is currently, he's an engineer and he's helping me, you...

...know, get a little bit more Technic uncle and um you know, holding me accountable and showing me the resources to learn how to boost sequel, which will help me quantify our projects a little bit more without relying have the results of our projects a little bit more, without necessarily having to rely on an engineer or someone external. And so there are ways that we definitely encourage people to, you know, expand beyond their initial um expertise and um encourage them to continue learning and expanding in areas that they're excited about. That is fascinating. I love hearing about just taking a very holistic but business driven approach to the, the environment at work. I think that's one of those things that's like how did we, how are we, you know, bringing that into the world just now? But I'm so glad to hear that. Oh man, I just know that anytime anybody allows me to take ownership of interests and helping the company, I love that it feels like a privilege. So how do you map out goals for such a long term endeavor of building a company that's that's going to last until forever and ever? Yeah. So one of the things that um we try to do is that with every product, every iteration, um everything that we build, is it something that we can continue to build on? Right. So we'll never build, you know, a one off feature that a customer request, if it doesn't, you know, address a pain point that all a lot of customers have raised and experience. And so what that means also is for example, um in an applicable way, for example, is when you think about if you should build an internal tool versus buy it or use a different software or vendor, whatever it is to solve that problem. And so one...

...of the ways that we decide is um is if we build this as an internal tool, what else can it help us with beyond the current project or problem that we're trying to solve? And if it's something that you can continuously layer additional solutions or if it's a solution that has, that solves many problems, then that's something that we will um, you know, that will build out and so that's a very clear and simple way to make sure that everything we're building, lays the foundation for many next steps and it's not something that will just abandon or have to change. Um you know, in the next year or so after that peace is completed, it sounds like one of the, like through lines of so much of what you do at expensive eyes is is keeping the goal posts the same and really just like everyone's eyes are on the prize, allowing them to go deep and and be really involved. Um but also like remembering the initial goal and not getting like sidelined by various things along the way, which I think from just what I know is is fairly rare. So that's that's fascinating and I'm curious what results you've seen from taking that approach. Yeah, so, you know, on the internal side, you know, kind of summarizing a lot of the things that we've chatted about, We see a pretty small turnover in terms of our team, right? And so we're pretty small company, we're just, I think we're just around 140 people. Um and you know, we've been here for 10 years and we have a huge customer base and all of that. And so um by minimizing turnover, it means that, you know, we have a team that is lean that's super focused on the long term vision, but they also have the context of where we come from and how we build and how we work. And so rather than having people constantly focused specifically on training, on...

...boarding and hiring, of course we have that, but that only that suddenly becomes a fraction of their work versus their entire job repeated over and over and over again. And then the second result, I think that's easy to point to is that, you know, because of the way that we think about marketing and we think about product building, we've been able to build this entire, this really big word of mouth engine that resulted us really not having to do what's like traditional marketing. Um for the first like 5 to 10, 5 to 10 years of our of our existence. And because people are excited about this product, they like it. They talk about us, their friends join those people in the recycle repeats, right, And that's helped us grow our customer base to what it is today. Oh, that's fascinating. If if you were to mentor somebody else who's in charge of implementing a bottom up adoption for a company that's looking at building a long lasting brand, where would you have them start? Uh definitely I would suggest that they write it down because you know, being specific about what your plan is, what your goal is. And then also identifying what is the problem you're trying to solve can help really clarify, you know, the next steps if you're really able to identify and right out the problem super thoroughly, that will make figuring out what the solution is much easier. And so you might find that, you know, the bottom up adoption model is not the way you go, but but if you're able to, you know, decide on what, you can only figure that out if you know what the problem is that you're trying to solve. So that's definitely the first step. That's, that's awesome. One thing that I wanted to jump back to as I'm, I'm listening again and thinking...

...about expensive eyes, long term visions. And, and one thing you mentioned just kind of cropped back into my head was this idea of letting people explore what they're interested in. Then you mentioned that on boarding and implementation, that's not their only job. It sounds like there is a piece here of being a generalist at expensive high. Is that something that you encourage people to be or is it is it um, that they're they're specialists, but they kind of are just like, you know, collaborators? Yeah. So, um, you know, you kind of hinted at this a little bit, but at expensive why we love, you know, and encourage the generalist mentality and for us, what generalist means is it just means that you're able to specialize in different things over and over and over and over again. And then you're able to teach that specialty and generalize it out to everyone else. So theoretically anyone else could pick up this thing that you just learned, read your instructions and implemented themselves. Right. And so, um and with health and all that shirt, but and so and so we really value generalists because they are able to connect the dots between all the different things that are going on in different parts of the company. It's not just I'm only focused on marketing, I'm only focused on my KPI s, I'm only focused on, you know, this section of the funnel and once it's passed this, it's not my problem. Right? And so we're able as a result to find more interesting holistic solutions that again, solved multiple problems versus very specific problems. And it also helps us keep the bigger picture in mind when everybody has context in various areas of the company and what those areas are doing. Oh, that's cool, I love that. So a generalist is somebody who is able to specialize over and over again and then this huge, important piece, teach somebody else that is like the key to having shared knowledge and preserving the vision and...

...the goals and keeping everybody on board. I don't want anyone to be a bottleneck, which, you know, I think in more traditional companies, people prize that specialization because the thought is well, they need me. If I'm the only person who can do this job, right? And our mindset is well, if you're the only person who can do this job, then you're not doing your job correctly and that gives a lot of people freedom right? Like if you're the only person who can do your job, you genuinely might turn down and opera other another opportunity somewhere else, that's the right career move. And if you're the only person who can do their job, nobody else can come in and fill in and again, just slow down the process. That's such a cool way to think about it, because I definitely have thought like make yourself indispensable be an expert and really kind of, you know, you know, mark out, this is the boundaries of what I do and I do this really well. I think that's so human and so relational to say like I I'm really good at this and I'm going to bring up the next people along with Me too, and I think that's a really interesting point you brought up too, because um that's one way to be indispensable, right, is to um have knowledge and be the expert in a specific area, but I think another um I think what we're trying to get at is that indispensability comes from trust, right? So if we trust that you can do something well over and over and over again, um regardless of what that task is, than you are suddenly a much more valuable employee than someone who isn't able to do that repetitively. Yeah, and isn't that so true? I always loved drawing drawing parallels from business to personal life, because I think I'm probably just like two super relational, but but I think that's like, man, if trust is such a hinge upon which all relationships turn or open, or whatever. That final phrases, um that makes sense that it's the same way...

...in business because business is full of humans. I think if there was one thing you wanted somebody to take away from this, if you're like, man, just do this or try this, what would it be? Yeah, I mean, I think you kind of hit the nail on the head with that statement Olivia, which was focused on the end goal from a human perspective, right? And then and then if you're able to figure that out, you can, you know, generate revenue, grow your profits, grow your companies because those are by products of um a larger goal or mission or vision, right? And so, you know, figure out as a company what behaviors you want to incentivize that will again build up upon each other, Right? If the behavior you want to incentivize is, you know, if you want to create a company that kind of works a little bit more like a machine, right? Every cog has a specific role then if that is your goal, then you know how to create a company like that, right? Um Silo people and departments and you give them a specific task that they get really good at and that they just repeat over and over if your goal is to create a company. Um you know that like us, we recognize that you spend a lot of time here, we want you to stay here for as long as you want to um forever, whatever that looks like forever one time. So let's not get into that, but I want you to stay here as long as possible and so we try to make the workplace as enjoyable, as fun as interesting um in order to keep you here, right? And that is a different type of business in a different type of a set of principles. Um and it could be something as simple as, you know, we have something called an offshore that we do every year where anybody in the company who wants to can travel, uh we all work in a Random country um for three weeks in a year and as long as they have good internet beach and um you know, is generally easy to fly to...

...from those countries. Um those are pretty much the three criteria, you can bring your plus one along. Um our third week is usually we preserve that as like a family week, right? Because we want, we recognize that families play a super important part in each individual's life and we want to make sure that you can bring those people who are the most important to you along and experience the things that you're experiencing as well. And so the third week is always super fancy. Um you can bring your kids, you can bring your spouse or partner, whoever that is. And um everybody kind of just, you know, stays at this one place and we work of course right to be clear. Um but we also set up that week activities for the kids and for the plus one um to go on and be able to explore, just enjoy the space or whatever that is and so, but again, that's because our value is that we want to create a place that people want are excited to be in, right? And to include the people that are important um in their lives is one aspect of ensuring that I love that and I also love that the requirements are a wifi signal and beach. Yeah, that was definitely um something from early off shores and it just worked really well. Why not? Yeah. And I think that's so cool that you, for those three weeks, people aren't feeling and in the weeks looking forward and post, they're not feeling the tension of like I want to go travel, I want to be by the beach. I want to experience a different culture and I have to do that as an unattached to work thing and carve it out of time that I have to be keeping up with the rest of my life too. Like I think that's a huge gift to employees to be able to say like this is an awesome thing that we get to do as humans to travel and you get to be part of it on working hours. So well, you've got a huge, you've got a huge fan of that from me, joanie. How can listeners connect with you if they want to learn more about you or expense if I Yeah, so...

...you know, feel free to message or connect with me on linkedin. Um it's just joanie wang and um you can find more information about expense if I uh use dot expensive dot com or just even expensive I dot com. And if you're an engineer, we are always hiring. So check out. We got our dot expensive by dot com. Well, thank you for chatting with me on GDP growth. Yeah, thank you so much for having me Olivia. It's been a pleasure. Oh my gosh, absolutely. Is the decision maker for your product or service at BBB marketer? Are you looking to reach those buyers through the medium of podcasting? Considered becoming a co host of GDP growth. This show is consistently ranked as a top 100 podcast in The marketing category of Apple Podcasts and the show gets more than 130,000 downloads each month. We've already done the work of building the audience so you can focus on delivering incredible content to our listeners. If you're interested, email Logan at Sweet Fish Media dot com. Yeah.

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