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 begrowth. My name is Olivia Hurley and today I'm joined by Joni wang who isthe director of marketing and brand at expense if I Tony, how are you doingtoday? 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, youand your team at expense. If I have really flipped around some traditionalmarketing strategies and have taken on a bottom up adoption model. Um, I'msuper curious of the, why, what, how when of that? But I'm also reallyinterested in talking to you about how you've supercharged this bottom upadoption model with a vision for building a long lasting brand. Um, canwe, can you tell me what a bottom up adoption model is and what it lookslike it expense if I yeah, definitely. Um, so to jump rightin uh, expensive eyes customer acquisition model, what we call it abottom up adoption model. And basically, it means, rather than focusing on thetop of funnel the decision makers, the people buying the software, we focus onbuilding our product for the end user, the people who are experiencing thepain point that could include Hagman's as well. But generally it would meanfor expense management company that we focus on the people who are trying toreconcile their expenses, who are traveling, who are buying things onbehalf of their company. And so when we say that we have a bottom of adoptionmodel, it means that we are creating a product for that end user, making surethat it addresses their pain points and ensuring that all of entering thatthey're able to adopt our product regardless of if they're admin ends upbuying or not. I'm curious why did Spence if I expensive I take thatapproach. Yeah. So, you know, typically...

...at most b to B companies, you focus onthe decision maker, right? They're the ones who signed the contracts and umProcure Software and find solutions for in order to reconcile their books orwhatever the business objective is. And so what we realized uh were two thingswas one it's much more powerful to create a product for the person who'sactually using it because they're because they're the ones who areactually 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 intoyour accounting software and do it as quickly as possible and as efficientlyas possible. And so what we wanted to do was so one um that's kind of thefocus and then of course there are way more employees at a company just from anumbers perspective versus decision decision makers. Right. And so ifyou're able to um approach every single one of these individuals and monetizethem and have them be basically a champion or buyer of your product, thenall of a sudden you have a lot more entry points in uh in terms of creatingadaptability in of your product in that company. And so from um even from ourorigins, that expense, if I, you know, we've always been, you know, a mobileapp, we launched just after Apple released their camera feature. And so alot of it has to do with enabling the person experiencing the problem to beable to find solutions that can solve that for them. Yeah, well I am a hugefan of you know, putting agency in the hands of employees, so I think that'sso cool. So I'm curious though, just to somebody who's not intimately familiarwith the bottom of adoption, how is this different from standard marketingprocedure? It means that even though we are a B two B product, we have a B to Cmarketing strategy. Right? And so...

...that's why you'll see, you know, ourcampaigns are geared towards the consumer, the end user, you know, thepeople who are around you, who are experiencing everyday life versusspecific 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 hiphop music video. We created our own soundtrack. Uh, and we created anentire experience around that. And um, versus, you know, having something alittle bit more typical of what you might expect from expense managementsoftware on a BdP product. Did that just on the marketing team did notallow for creativity to abound because you weren't strictly marketing todecision makers, but rather this BBC play absolutely what it enabled us todo with kind of think outside the box of, you know, what are we as a productreally trying to do? And, you know, we were working with our internal team aswell as an external agency and we were thinking, what is again, what is thepain point we're trying to solve, right? And where we landed on at the time, ourcampaign model, for example, was like the idea of you weren't born to doexpenses. And so that really, you know, even that slogan in itself reallyfocused 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. Andwith that kind of slogan and you know, brand message, we were able to kind ofthink completely outside of the box because all of a sudden the audience wewere addressing was anybody who had this problem versus a very small stepsthat and we were able to get creative super creative, I love that I had aextremely brief tenure in a position right out of college where I was incharge of expenses and resolving and you know, budget and things like thatand I will say brief because I hated it...

...so deeply, it was this like you know, avery scary thing to have to manage, but also I feel like I don't know what I'mdoing 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 thehands of the people who are doing those things, but it gives them back so muchtime and I certainly would have would have benefited from that. So speakingof that, what are the key ingredients for a successful bottom up adoptionmodel? Yeah. Um, at the heart of this model is, you know, getting peopleexcited about your product and getting people to talk about your productunprompted on their own wherever they are, right? So it could be in abusiness 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'scomplaining or venting about processes at work or whatever. Right? And so Ithink the key ingredient is to, from BBB standpoint to have a well designedproduct that's very easy for someone to pick up and learn and start using. Andif you're solving what their problem is. And in this case for us it was peopleare spending a ton of time on expenses at the end of the month when they couldbe doing something else. They will rave about it to their friends becauseyou're making their life easier allowing them to spend more time onwhatever it is that they want to do. And so how did you generate word ofmouth at the very beginning? Yeah. Great question. Um, expense if Ibasically, we launched our app in the app store in I think about 2009 or 2010and that was right after Apple launched, um, the camera functionality. And sowhat we were able to do was we built our app with that camera like smartscan technology. And that was really what pivoted us instead differentiatedus from the rest of the market. At that time. We were the only ones with an uhan expense app that you can just bring along on your phone. And what thatmeant was that you could just take a...

...picture of your receipt. We will, ourOcR technology will read the merchant date and amount and just automaticallycategorize that for you so that you didn't really have to do anything. Andthat was a difference maker because no one at the time again had an app. Noone we're was able to use OcR too automate that process. And so I thinkwhen, you know, people got sick and tired of their processes, their superunable to find their own solutions and we just happened to be super lucky thatthe app store just came out and they were promoting, you know what apps wereon there and we were one of them. And so we're kind of quickly spread thatway. 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 weretraveling for business or conferences or things like that. And we just kindof grew like wildfire from there. Oh, that's awesome. It's so cool. It's socool to talk to people who are at companies that were first movers intheir space and you're definitely one of those fuel. That's awesome. How doeshaving such a loyal customer profile on base? How does that help you withbuilding a long lasting company to? Yeah, I think every loyal customer youhave is essentially, you know, someone who is willing to talk about yourproduct 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 ifI is versus if I tell you how great expensive I is, right? Becauseobviously I work here, so I'm going to tell you that. Um, and so what we likewhat kind of went hand in hand with our bottom up adoption model was this ideaof word of mouth we were spreading because people were excited about whatwe were able to do and when we were and what they were able to do with ourproduct 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 socool when you and your team talk about the components of a long lasting brandand building, building a company that's made for longevity. What are some ofthe key things you keep coming back to that have to be there? Yeah, that's agreat question I would say. The first thing is to really root your brand andyour company in the team's core values and beliefs and what I mean by that isthat if you are pushing out a brand that, you know, people don'tnecessarily align with or that's not natural, then it gets very hard to keepthat up over time, Right? So it's a very simple example of this is, youknow, if it's very hot to be a green company right now, right? But if thereis no basis in your company being like pushing forward green initiatives orbeing eco friendly, then you'll probably do it for as long as it'spopular, but you're not really, you're not, but once it's not popular, you'regoing 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 toattract super loyal brand followers and people who love your product and whatyou 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 havethe same, you know, values. And so I would say, you know, definitely makesure you your internal brand in your external brand have, you know, theydon't have to be 100% the same, but certainly the, the driving foundationalforces should overlap. And then I would say the second key ingredient is tofocus both on evergreen. Um, brand long term brand concepts as values as wellas cultural relativity, right? Because...

...one will help you forged a strong andconsistent identity. Um, that will naturally draw in like minded consumersand the other cultural relativity will help you identify points in which yourbrand, your company can enter the conversation and be relevant to, youknow, what's going on in the world. You mentioned having the external and theinternal brand be built around some of these same tenants, but that they don'thave to match exactly are their processes and systems built into theinternal 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, interms 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 thatyou want, you know, we spend a lot of time at work and so you want to thinkabout like What kind of environment do I want to spend 40 or 50 hours a weekat? And what kind of people do I want to be surrounded by? And what kind ofum processes can allow for that, right? And so, for example, um one of thethings that we really push forward is this idea of a flat organization, sonobody has any ones manager and you can kind of proposed projects as you areexcited that you are excited about that help our overarching goals. And so thatkind of comes from the core belief of, you know, people get bored if you ifyou make them do the same thing over and over and over again, right? It'sfine if you have a marketing department, for example where one person does emailmarketing one person does S. C. 01 person does advertising but at somepoint they're going to get bored of that because they're not learning newthings, they're not solving new...

...problems. Um And so they leave right?Because that's the way that your company is structured. And so theapproach we tried to take is to make sure that people are having interestingthings that they can solve or focus on. Which means that you know we have apretty flat organization and we also allow people to kind of hop in betweendepartments so to speak right and kind of focus on things that may not be whatthey were originally hired for as long as it um At the bottom line. Oh manthat's so cool. So tell me a little bit more about that. Are there for thepeople who are like I've never seen anything like this. How does thisfunction in actuality? You know? How do you keep clarity Aroundresponsibilities 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 calledWhat's next that guides our overarching vision as well as practical short termmilestones. 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 everyonein the company agrees on. And if you don't know what to work on or you don'thave an idea, you can always refer to this document to make and and picksomething up. Right? And you know whether you're you're primarily anengineering or marketing or sales or whatever it is, there's every componentof those functions like our exist in most projects. And so the one we havethat 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 andencouraging people to follow their interests, there is we have like amentor program. Right? And so you can choose your mentors from any departmentand they will help you focus on your both personal and professional goalsand find ways to tie that together. An example is my mentor is currently, he'san engineer and he's helping me, you...

...know, get a little bit more Technicuncle and um you know, holding me accountable and showing me theresources to learn how to boost sequel, which will help me quantify ourprojects a little bit more without relying have the results of ourprojects a little bit more, without necessarily having to rely on anengineer or someone external. And so there are ways that we definitelyencourage people to, you know, expand beyond their initial um expertise andum encourage them to continue learning and expanding in areas that they'reexcited about. That is fascinating. I love hearing about just taking a veryholistic but business driven approach to the, the environment at work. Ithink 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, Ijust know that anytime anybody allows me to take ownership of interests andhelping the company, I love that it feels like a privilege. So how do youmap out goals for such a long term endeavor of building a company that'sthat's going to last until forever and ever? Yeah. So one of the things thatum we try to do is that with every product, every iteration, um everythingthat we build, is it something that we can continue to build on? Right. Sowe'll never build, you know, a one off feature that a customer request, if itdoesn't, you know, address a pain point that all a lot of customers have raisedand experience. And so what that means also is for example, um in anapplicable way, for example, is when you think about if you should build aninternal tool versus buy it or use a different software or vendor, whateverit is to solve that problem. And so one...

...of the ways that we decide is um is ifwe build this as an internal tool, what else can it help us with beyond thecurrent project or problem that we're trying to solve? And if it's somethingthat you can continuously layer additional solutions or if it's asolution that has, that solves many problems, then that's something that wewill um, you know, that will build out and so that's a very clear and simpleway to make sure that everything we're building, lays the foundation for manynext steps and it's not something that will just abandon or have to change. Umyou know, in the next year or so after that peace is completed, it sounds likeone of the, like through lines of so much of what you do at expensive eyesis is keeping the goal posts the same and really just like everyone's eyesare on the prize, allowing them to go deep and and be really involved. Um butalso like remembering the initial goal and not getting like sidelined byvarious things along the way, which I think from just what I know is isfairly rare. So that's that's fascinating and I'm curious whatresults you've seen from taking that approach. Yeah, so, you know, on theinternal side, you know, kind of summarizing a lot of the things thatwe'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 justaround 140 people. Um and you know, we've been here for 10 years and wehave 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 onthe long term vision, but they also have the context of where we come fromand how we build and how we work. And so rather than having people constantlyfocused specifically on training, on...

...boarding and hiring, of course we havethat, but that only that suddenly becomes a fraction of their work versustheir entire job repeated over and over and over again. And then the secondresult, I think that's easy to point to is that, you know, because of the waythat we think about marketing and we think about product building, we'vebeen able to build this entire, this really big word of mouth engine thatresulted us really not having to do what's like traditional marketing. Umfor the first like 5 to 10, 5 to 10 years of our of our existence. Andbecause people are excited about this product, they like it. They talk aboutus, their friends join those people in the recycle repeats, right, And that'shelped us grow our customer base to what it is today. Oh, that'sfascinating. If if you were to mentor somebody else who's in charge ofimplementing a bottom up adoption for a company that's looking at building along lasting brand, where would you have them start? Uh definitely I would suggest that theywrite it down because you know, being specific about what your plan is, whatyour goal is. And then also identifying what is the problem you're trying tosolve can help really clarify, you know, the next steps if you're really able toidentify and right out the problem super thoroughly, that will makefiguring out what the solution is much easier. And so you might find that, youknow, the bottom up adoption model is not the way you go, but but if you'reable to, you know, decide on what, you can only figure that out if you knowwhat the problem is that you're trying to solve. So that's definitely thefirst step. That's, that's awesome. One thing that I wanted to jump back to asI'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 wasthis idea of letting people explore what they're interested in. Then youmentioned that on boarding and implementation, that's not their onlyjob. It sounds like there is a piece here of being a generalist at expensivehigh. Is that something that you encourage people to be or is it is itum, that they're they're specialists, but they kind of are just like, youknow, collaborators? Yeah. So, um, you know, you kind of hinted at this alittle bit, but at expensive why we love, you know, and encourage thegeneralist mentality and for us, what generalist means is it just means thatyou're able to specialize in different things over and over and over and overagain. And then you're able to teach that specialty and generalize it out toeveryone else. So theoretically anyone else could pick up this thing that youjust learned, read your instructions and implemented themselves. Right. Andso, um and with health and all that shirt, but and so and so we reallyvalue generalists because they are able to connect the dots between all thedifferent things that are going on in different parts of the company. It'snot just I'm only focused on marketing, I'm only focused on my KPI s, I'm onlyfocused 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 moreinteresting holistic solutions that again, solved multiple problems versusvery specific problems. And it also helps us keep the bigger picture inmind when everybody has context in various areas of the company and whatthose areas are doing. Oh, that's cool, I love that. So a generalist issomebody 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 sharedknowledge and preserving the vision and...

...the goals and keeping everybody onboard. I don't want anyone to be a bottleneck, which, you know, I think inmore traditional companies, people prize that specialization because thethought 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 thisjob, then you're not doing your job correctly and that gives a lot ofpeople freedom right? Like if you're the only person who can do your job,you genuinely might turn down and opera other another opportunity somewhereelse, that's the right career move. And if you're the only person who can dotheir job, nobody else can come in and fill in and again, just slow down theprocess. That's such a cool way to think about it, because I definitelyhave thought like make yourself indispensable be an expert and reallykind of, you know, you know, mark out, this is the boundaries of what I do andI do this really well. I think that's so human and so relational to say likeI I'm really good at this and I'm going to bring up the next people along withMe 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 haveknowledge and be the expert in a specific area, but I think another um Ithink 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 overagain, um regardless of what that task is, than you are suddenly a much morevaluable employee than someone who isn't able to do that repetitively.Yeah, and isn't that so true? I always loved drawing drawing parallels frombusiness to personal life, because I think I'm probably just like two superrelational, but but I think that's like, man, if trust is such a hinge uponwhich all relationships turn or open, or whatever. That final phrases, umthat makes sense that it's the same way...

...in business because business is full ofhumans. I think if there was one thing you wanted somebody to take away fromthis, if you're like, man, just do this or try this, what would it be? Yeah, Imean, 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 thenand then if you're able to figure that out, you can, you know, generaterevenue, grow your profits, grow your companies because those are by productsof um a larger goal or mission or vision, right? And so, you know, figureout as a company what behaviors you want to incentivize that will againbuild 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 bitmore like a machine, right? Every cog has a specific role then if that isyour goal, then you know how to create a company like that, right? Um Silopeople and departments and you give them a specific task that they getreally good at and that they just repeat over and over if your goal is tocreate a company. Um you know that like us, we recognize that you spend a lotof 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 Iwant you to stay here as long as possible and so we try to make theworkplace as enjoyable, as fun as interesting um in order to keep youhere, right? And that is a different type of business in a different type ofa set of principles. Um and it could be something as simple as, you know, wehave something called an offshore that we do every year where anybody in thecompany who wants to can travel, uh we all work in a Random country um forthree weeks in a year and as long as they have good internet beach and umyou know, is generally easy to fly to...

...from those countries. Um those arepretty much the three criteria, you can bring your plus one along. Um our thirdweek is usually we preserve that as like a family week, right? Because wewant, we recognize that families play a super important part in eachindividual's life and we want to make sure that you can bring those peoplewho are the most important to you along and experience the things that you'reexperiencing as well. And so the third week is always super fancy. Um you canbring your kids, you can bring your spouse or partner, whoever that is. Andum everybody kind of just, you know, stays at this one place and we work ofcourse right to be clear. Um but we also set up that week activities forthe kids and for the plus one um to go on and be able to explore, just enjoythe space or whatever that is and so, but again, that's because our value isthat 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 oneaspect of ensuring that I love that and I also love that the requirements are awifi signal and beach. Yeah, that was definitely um something from early offshores and it just worked really well. Why not? Yeah. And I think that's socool that you, for those three weeks, people aren't feeling and in the weekslooking forward and post, they're not feeling the tension of like I want togo travel, I want to be by the beach. I want to experience a different cultureand I have to do that as an unattached to work thing and carve it out of timethat I have to be keeping up with the rest of my life too. Like I thinkthat's a huge gift to employees to be able to say like this is an awesomething that we get to do as humans to travel and you get to be part of it onworking hours. So well, you've got a huge, you've got a huge fan of thatfrom me, joanie. How can listeners connect with you if they want to learnmore about you or expense if I Yeah, so...

...you know, feel free to message orconnect with me on linkedin. Um it's just joanie wang and um you can findmore information about expense if I uh use dot expensive dot com or just evenexpensive I dot com. And if you're an engineer, we are always hiring. Socheck out. We got our dot expensive by dot com. Well, thank you for chattingwith me on GDP growth. Yeah, thank you so much for having me Olivia. It's beena pleasure. Oh my gosh, absolutely. Is the decision maker for your productor service at BBB marketer? Are you looking to reach those buyers throughthe medium of podcasting? Considered becoming a co host of GDP growth. Thisshow is consistently ranked as a top 100 podcast in The marketing categoryof 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 ondelivering incredible content to our listeners. If you're interested, emailLogan at Sweet Fish Media dot com. Yeah.

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