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What You Must Know to Work With Growth Marketers

28 augustus '19

Reading time: 7 minutes

Pascal van Steen has a story that any aspiring growth hacker would envy.

Highlights from the past 5 years include raising €9 million in 12 minutes in funding, building a growth hacking community of thousands, and growing an email list of 20.000+ subscribers in a month.


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But as Pascal tells it, his successes can’t be traced back to tactics and playbooks, commonly shared amongst beginning growth marketers and many growth agencies. In fact, Pascal has spent numerous meetings turning down potential clients because they thought he could help them raise hundreds of millions with a few simple tips & tricks.

According to Pascal being and training yourself to become a quality growth marketer comes down to finding where people congregate online. These online communities are great sources of data and you can use tools to scrape this data quite easily.

We’ve heard this from growth marketeers again and again. After all, a solid foundation builds a strong process. To utilize in your search for sustainable growth. But whether it is sparked by an inspirational quote on Instagram or by someone else’s success, entrepreneurs and managers repeatedly push their marketing teams to find a quick fix.

What doesn’t help is the increasing popularity for growth hacking and the small number of educated organizations. Very few go the extra mile of specializing themselves and referring potential clients to educators, so clients will be a better fit later on. Pascal, however, is a rare exception.

His multi disciplinary skill set, which according to Pascal is a blueprint for any growth marketer, consists of data analysis, running experiments, and knowing about user behavior, coding, and automation. And using these skills to setup a repeatable and scalable process to find your ideal client.

In this extensive interview, Pascal elaborates his thoughts on why having a growth hacker is not the solution, why squads are preferred over teams, and what to expect when working with a growth agency. He shares the learnings from his successes and failures, unveiling practical processes and tools, for business and personal use.

It all starts with enthusiasm

Many disciplines require formal training and years of skill building in large organizations or agencies, not growth marketing. We would even argue that, for aspiring marketers, this path would often be a helpful trail towards becoming a useless addition to any fast scaling company. Pascal’s life journey is an example of what does work.

“I majored in entrepreneurship before the lean startup became a thing and to say it was not a good fit is quite the understatement. I remembered my counselor suggesting I’d quit school. This turned out to be invaluable advice many years later and his helpfulness heavily influenced my decision to become a guest lecturer at my former college.”

“In a time when no one knew what it was, I was exhilarated by growth marketing, so I wanted to learn more. And it turned out there were others like me, which resulted in Growth Hacker Talk becoming a community with 1.000+ members after a few LinkedIn posts. We were planning a small event on a boat, where we’d just hang out and talk growth, but luckily weather expectations in The Netherlands can shift rapidly and become extremely shitty, to say the least, so we had to move it indoors. Leading to 180 participants at our third edition at a popular co-working space in Amsterdam. Talk about going where your audience is.”

Unfortunately for Pascal, his rise to fame did not continue without any hurdles. “After I quit my first agency, I cancelled my apartment in Breda and found a job in Amsterdam. Little did I know I would sleep in hostels, with friends, or with Tinder dates for quite a while.”

But then, crypto happened

“Back then, the entire blockchain market was completely outrageous because of the popularity of different cryptos. And I was approached by a couple of guys who wanted to raise €10 million in an ICO. Eventually we closed our pre-sale for €1 million within 3.5 minutes and our main sale for €9 million within 12 minutes. I worked 80 to 100 hours per week for 3 months, but we made it happen.”

“Even though opportunities in this market were endless, we had to figure out what would work. So we went to blockchain meetups and everyone was talking about Facebook ads. This was before Facebook had any restrictions on blockchain related topics and they blocked advertisers from targeting extremely specific audiences.”

Together with his current business partner Gino, Pascal looked for places where crypto enthusiasts congregated, which turned out to be Whatsapp groups. “We would run a Google boolean search for ‘chat.whatsapp.com AND bitcoin’, scrape the phone numbers of everyone in there and setup a custom audience in Facebook ads. And to trigger engagement and virality, we setup a contest where participants would receive points for referrals, shares, blog posts, and likes and promised tokens on the initial offering to the top 50 participants. We ran ads paid for with the founders’ credit card and within 2 weeks we had 20.000 participants.”

Finding and seizing opportunities

“Companies have to look for grey areas of what is allowed and what isn’t. How else do you compete with existing platforms. You will not succeed if you do everything according to their terms of service,” Pascal explains. “It’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. All companies who made it big utilized similar practices. There’s little liability as a small company. There’s no reputation to destroy and even if you get a fine, it’s based on your revenue, of which there is none. Just remember to constantly look for places where you can find potential clients.”

This assertion is backed up by Pascal’s favorite platform: LinkedIn. “They’re constantly putting a stop to any form of automation on the platform, but by cross referencing Sales Navigator with other tools and not directly selling, but using ice-breakers to get into actual conversations and build genuine business relationships, it remains the most relevant channel for generating B2B leads. Especially for early stage startups.”

The secrets to implementing growth marketing within your organization

While these fast developments may seem to be the golden egg companies are looking for, Pascal is quick to point out he was only able to move so quickly because they could collaborate with developers and designers. “To me, marketing has always felt like an outsider within startup teams. Developers and designers already worked together in sprints after which they would look at marketing to bring in the users. With growth marketing and implementing the right processes, it is much more a team effort. That’s because growth marketing follows the same methodology used by the other expertises.”

Companies looking for collaborations with growth marketers or growth agencies should note that it’s all about knowing what you need. “Replacing an entire growth team will not work. An agency can provide way more value when it acts as an addition to an existing marketing team. Every company needs different experiments and every experiment results in different needs, which should then be fulfilled by a person or team.”

“The biggest problem is that companies believe a growth marketer fixes all their problems. This is the main reason why we’re not a full service agency anymore, because these expectations cannot be met. When we did the ICO people thought ‘if we get these guys, we’ll be filthy rich’, but that’s not how it works. With our clients, we are an addition to their processes, they need to have their processes set, so we can focus on getting their sales team more leads to chase.”

Pascal cautions that companies need to be thoughtful when approaching an agency. “Agencies that do all verticals can only do the easy stuff. Also, if you hire a full service agency, you are basically looking for a replacement for your own marketing team. You should actually work towards a situation where you don’t need the agency anymore.”

Pascal suggests increasing your efforts on customer development if you still think you need a full service agency. “Find out what channels to use. If, by then, you still feel like you need an agency, you can hire them to manage one or a few specific channels. Are you not ready yet? Then you need some serious education from the likes of Growth Tribe or The Talent Institute. Beware, agencies usually offer education as well, but they will mostly guide you towards their own services.”

Practice what you preach

Focus on important clients

Pascal brings the same focus and intentions to his team and personal life. “After the ICO we thought we were the best in the country and we said ‘yes’ to way too many people. Even though a lot of them were not ready for growth. Now, we only work with post-investment startups, for budget reasons mainly. Even more important is that startups have reached product market fit. Which is hard to define, but getting proactive feedback from your user base and having relatively low churn can be a good indication of product market fit.”

Focus on important tasks

Developing the calendar hygiene to match work to state priorities by reviewing your schedule for a set period of time, creates space to step back and reflect. “I’m a big fan of Getting Things Done and The Lean Startup, so I have a pretty rigid process with a weekly review and automations that create tasks in Todoist when something happens. Even small things like getting a haircut and changing the linen on my bed are included. The entrepreneur lifestyle can be challenging and overwhelming and this process keeps me focused on what’s important. I also keep a journal in which everyday I write 3 things I’m thankful for. In the morning I add 3 things that make today a success and what I dreamt about, and in the evening I write down 3 things that happened today and what I want to do tomorrow. Also synced with Todoist.”