December 21, 2022

Path to Growth and Optimizing User Activation w/ Vikas Hebbar of Tia

Vikas reveals how his diverse career path made him a better marketer, how he defines and optimizes for user activation, plus he and Nima get into a healthy debate if the job of marketers is to convince customers to buy your product or not.

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The host

Nima Gardideh

President of Pearmill, ex-Head of Product at Taplytics, ex-Head of Mobile at Frank & Oak. YC fellow.

Our guest(s)

Vikas Hebbar

VP Growth Marketing, Tia

About this episode

Vikas Hebbar is a serial marketer and founder having had a focus on growth in his career, currently serving as the VP Growth Marketing at Tia. He’s helped e-commerce, healthcare and gaming companies scale through brand and growth marketing.

In this episode, Vikas unlocks how his diverse career path made him a better marketer and reveals how to go from big box budgets to getting scrappy w/ smaller startup budgets. Plus, Nima and Vikas get into a healthy debate about whether or not the job of marketers is to convince customers to buy your product.

More episode highlights:

  • Advice to younger folks getting into marketing to challenge societal narratives.
  • Where does product end and marketing begin.
  • How to define and optimize for user activation.
  • How to overcome the uncertainty of CAC payment windows.
  • The state of capital markets and capital allocation.

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Want to share your hyper-growth story with us? Email nima@pearmill.com to be a guest.

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[00:00:00] Vikas Hebbar: I think a lot of people are experiencing this where they get brave and they go into TikTok and if you do it right, they start seeing a ton of traffic for like really, really cheap. And you feel like this is Facebook 2010 or whatever, all over again. and so that's great and everyone's excited and we have these new growth me growth metrics, but I'm also like, wait, let's see what these members actually do in how they behave in our final and how they activate and are they really like a solid 12 month cohort or are, is this not the right? So like there's a little bit of that. We are doing that post hoc. 


Transcript of the episode

[00:00:31] Nima Gardideh: Welcome to another episode of The Hypergrowth Experience. I am Nima Gardideh, your host. and I'm quite excited about Vikaa Hebbar, who's currently the VP of Growth Marketing at Tia. If you don't know about Tia, I would say women's focused online and offline healthcare platform.

[00:00:56] His past and experience as a marketer has been quite interesting, to dig into. He's sort of started from product, he has gone to brand and now growth marketing, and has a bit of a stent as a founder as well in the middle of all that. So it was wonderful to hear him talk about his process and how it all made sense to him over time.

[00:01:18] Especially if you're looking to hire marketers or having conversations with folks early in their careers, I think it's a very useful conversation to listen to. Seeing him having gone from extremely big brands to startups and the differences and the sort of complexities of how these things change, but

[00:01:42] are still the same to some extent, was very fun to listen to and, if you're into debates, we had a good one about how marketers are not meant to necessarily convince customers or at least that is my take on it or my position and it was fun to go back and forth on that.

[00:02:02] And I think it's, he has an interesting mindset and models around giving career advice to other marketers and so we start there. Here's Vikas.


[00:02:16] Vikas Hebbar: Foundationally, I think I follow curiosity and that's just been kind of like how I do a lot of things in life. So if something is really interesting and curious, I don't really stop to think about, Hey, what is the big picture? What is the story I'm telling other people? Doesn't cross my mind.

[00:02:30] Maybe in ways that might other more practically minded folks, but I think, when I do look at the connective tissue, it is that in every phase that I've been at there has been sort of a growth. So growing has been really, really important from different phases when I was in Biopharma, it was still growing very fast.

[00:02:48] It was a bigger company, but we're expanding to new markets. We had new launches. There was a lot of fast-paced activity, at least for that space. When I was in video games, same thing. This was a company that was taking a whole new paradigm of gaming. This is riot games and blowing it up across the world.

[00:03:06] It was really, really cool and people didn't even know really what eSports was at that time. And then going to the bootstrapping your own thing, that's like the ultimate sort of, you got skin in the game and you've gotta grow it and otherwise it's gonna sink and then being back in the sort of series B area, it's all about growth.

[00:03:21] So I think that is huge in everything I've done. And I think the other layer of that is that everywhere I've gone to, and this probably speaks to the curiosity element of it, is that every place I've been at or try to do myself has been something of trying to do or shape or explore a new way of doing things. So, it's not just growth, but it's kind of doing something new that hasn't been done in the area or trying to challenge a convention or define a genre or category. 

[00:03:46] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. And then I think that sounds very familiar to me. Cause that's kind of the only thing that has been constant for me as well, is just curiosity around growth and growing things. In the conjunction of building them is, I come from an engineering background, but I'm curious why you. Recommend a different path to other people who are younger. Cause I actually, I act, I recommend your path, generally speaking with the caveat that if that sounds scary to you, then maybe that's not for you and you need to follow some, like more linear path for what you're doing, but what you're saying to me makes so much sense cuz I also to some extent did the same thing where I was like, well I'm curious about this area right now.

[00:04:29] I'm gonna learn and get better at this thing, this role, or start this type of company. And that seems to be like, at least way more fulfilling at a personal level then what I see some other folks go through in their careers. So I'm curious why you recommend a different path?

[00:04:46] Vikas Hebbar: Yeah. Part of it is, I guess in a way. When I talk to folks, a lot of times I like start with what I kind of think of as like the null hypothesis recommendation, which is what? The baseline, what is the thing that society sort of expects or scribes for you? What is gonna give you the highest probability chance of having a comfortable life, of being able to provide for yourself of making it, of climbing up the corporate ladder of all these things that are sort of the no hypothesis of how to live your life?

[00:05:19] I mean, I'm obviously, I'm kind of like foreshadowing that I'm kind of casting it to be like, not the ideal selection, but I like to have people think about really critically think like, why should I take these risk? Why should I go? There's already paths available to me that are probably a higher providing a higher probability of achieving success in quotes, and achieving, whether it's financial, career, supporting your family, however you define success.

[00:05:46] So these are already there for you. And so I tend to have these conversations a lot with people. For example, I mentioned business school who are like deciding to go into business school or graduating out of it and kind of thinking what to do. And I usually start with the first hypothesis, no hypothesis recommendation.

[00:06:00] Don't go to business school. Why do you need to spend that much money and go to business school? Like you can learn all this stuff for free or for much less. And you can get these experiences so much more readily and quickly and maybe even more up to date education by avoiding this huge thing that I did. So I really want people to sort of challenge that notion and really just be like, okay, I really am going to choose this alternative hypothesis,

[00:06:25] Nima Gardideh: So you kind of, it sounds like you're, you're trying to recommend kind of like critical thinking instead of following a narrative. And so like, even if you're telling them to follow your path itself is following a narrative as opposed to like having some individual thought around what they should do with their life and how they should balance risk with experience and learning.

[00:06:47] And go for the type of success that they think is the definition of success as opposed to what's sort of been given to them. I wonder if, so the growth part for you, like you were in, is that biopharma job, your sort of first thing. Was that you worked on, and it sounded like you were doing like growing things, like you were working on expanding the like, did  that growth was be interesting or you just kinda of took whatever was interesting and curious you follow the C at that point?

[00:07:20] Vikas Hebbar: Yeah, I mean, it's funny, at that time I don't think we even used that word growth. This was like in the two thousands. In fact, I remember some of my earlier conversations were to these pharmaceutical executives and trying to explain to them why we really needed a website. 

[00:07:37] Nima Gardideh: They all do.

[00:07:38] Vikas Hebbar: Again, imagine some of these folks probably worked for some of these legacy pharma companies where it was really about, you do a TV advertisement, you do a magazine spread, and this and that and like, so we were at some formative stages, but then it was growth because you're talking about launching a new product and trying to scale adoption of that product by any means possible.

[00:07:57] Right. And so, and you do it efficiently, efficiently as you can. And so that effectively is growth. It's just some of the channels, the analytics, the thought process and the frameworks were different and still the NASA stages.

[00:08:09] But yeah, that's where it was like there's a new challenge. We have a new product we're launching in a couple of months. How do we get as, sort of patients aware about this product, how many do we get as many healthcare professionals educated on this product? What are our channels available that we can use and, and, and be as efficient as possible?

[00:08:25] So, yeah, I don't think we actually thought about it as growth. And it certainly wasn't, this was before like growth hacking, , that, that term that shall not be named that I just named was a thing. But yeah, that's that, that was where it was. So now when I look back and go, oh yeah, that's where I kind of got some of the found.

[00:08:40] Of this stuff. And of course this was with like larger budgets and bigger reach than what I did afterwards intentionally. But, it was the same thing, just a different scale. 

[00:08:49] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, that's so interesting. So yeah, the vernacular has definitely changed a lot. And growth hacking is one that now is like frowned upon. But at the time, it got started using, I think Sean Ellis or Andrew Chen, one of those guys started using, it became like the standard thing and everyone's like, LinkedIn profile switched the growth hacker.

[00:09:09] All of a sudden there was, like a phase there that did you, I'm curious, have you been in a big organization like that ever since, or was that like the biggest headcount or you were working.

[00:09:23] Vikas Hebbar: Yeah, so that was when I left. I mean, I don't remember the specifics, but it was definitely over like 15-20,000 people globally. So yeah, it became a big global company and then kind of a similar sequence. When I joined Riot Games, which is when I joined in this interesting inflection point, we were still in these old offices where people, there were cables hanging out the wall, probably safety hazards everywhere.

[00:09:50] And then we moved to this fancy new campus and exploded in growth. It got acquired by a big Chinese corporation, and then that was a big company. It was not as big as Amgen. That was the biotech company I was in. But it was still, it felt like, okay, now we're a proper big, big boy company at this point. Like we have to pack like. 

[00:10:06] Nima Gardideh: Wow. And then you worked on the Legal Legend stuff, right? Like was that, so you, were you on the event side, on the eSports side of it?

[00:10:13] Vikas Hebbar: So I was on the community side and this was one of those things where I was working in kind of more traditional pharmaceutical digital marketing for a while doing these kind of more big box campaigns and things like that. And like the obvious thing for me to have done, cause I had.

[00:10:28] And did that chapter or transition outta that chapter by going to business school. The obvious thing would've been to kind of continue that, but just maybe, hopefully a step up in another pharma company or something like that. But of course, I did the opposite of that, which is change industries entirely to follow my passion, which was video games and move as far away from running, TV ads and big time banner display campaigns and stuff like that to like grassroots community program for video games?

[00:10:55] It was like polar opposite type of marketing. And that was one of those times where, I was just like, this is not only something I'm curious and passionate about, but this is like a whole, I have, I don't understand this part of marketing, but I think I have some of the sort of some sorts of skill sets and mindset that I can kind of ramp up in this.

[00:11:12] Well, and the person who hired me believed in me, which was great, and I learned a ton. So we were doing a lot of sort of like a global program designed to activate communities and at that time we call them creators or we had different names for 'em, but they're basically influencers, what we call 'em today to try to bottoms up engagement, excitement, and application of our brand. 

[00:11:36] Nima Gardideh: That feels a little early. I think now we, there's like a whole slew of both products and, and folks talking about building community. , we always have to feel like, I feel like you gotta look at gaming. And in porn industries to learn what the latest things in marketing are. Cuz there's like, the hardest areas in marketing is it's extremely competitive.

[00:12:00] There's a lot to learn there. And so it sounds like, yeah, you, you are doing marketing, community marketing that nowadays are community growth. Community led growth has become one of the major channels of growth now at least there's a few companies have been built fully on it, where you can, there's been, yeah, like software around it, how to think about it. There's like different flows you can do and then, sort of follow the same experiment model that uses, but on this, of this space, quite interesting.

[00:12:34] Vikas Hebbar: Yeah. But I would also add in, in addition to marketing those two industries, you can also learn a lot about analytics specifically. They have some of the most savvy data scientists in some of these industries. 

[00:12:48] Nima Gardideh: And so you moved on from there. You started your first company, right? Or your eCommerce world. So why go from gaming to e-commerce, first of all, and why did you decide to start your own company and not continue on that path you were on?

[00:13:07] Vikas Hebbar: So, yeah, I mean, the short answer is because it doesn't make any sense. It didn't make any sense for me to leave this company that I loved where I got to work on this game that I loved with people who I loved, that had a ton of growth potential still, if I was gonna advise.

[00:13:23] I would of course try to talk myself out of that, except the null hypothesis recommendation, stick it out. You're gonna do great. This is why you went through what you went through and et cetera, et cetera. But at that time, I had just gotten bitten by this bug where I just needed to try my own thing.

[00:13:40] And I felt like if I waited, I just would never do it. And I know myself, sometimes I can get just very comfortable in things. So I try to kind of. Seized that energy. And so, I left that company with a couple of my grad school colleagues and we started these very, very simple like bootstrappy e-commerce businesses in which we sold things like fashion, apparel, and pet health products.

[00:14:06] And it was just a whole different challenge. I started in biopharma, we had these bigger budgets and we did these big campaigns, and it was a ton of moving pieces and et cetera, et cetera, to these grassroots programs that we developed to kind of engage communities around the world, get them excited about a video game to now I literally have like physical objects sitting in warehouses that I need to somehow convince people all around the country to buy And so how do you do that? And that's, I don't have the budgets that I had when I was in any of those companies. So we had to start thinking about growth in a whole different way, which is just like, okay, maybe we don't try to manufacture demand. We go where the demand. And so we found places like Amazon, for example, where there was already a ton of sort of organic, for lack of better word, demand for some of these products.

[00:14:56] Optimized listings and keywords, use various other tactics at our disposal, just email marketing, things like that to really, really like gorilla style, dirty, rolling up our sleeves, just out every sale that we could. Kind of thing. And that was just a whole nother unblock for me in terms of like this area of marketing and bootstrappiness and scrappiness that I just had to develop. And there's skin in the game. So it's like you either develop it or you sink.

[00:15:26] And it was just a really incredible period of time where I think I learned, I think you talked to a lot of people and they finally, when it goes to that phase, they're like, I learned more in that one or two years than I did the past 10. Yeah. That's not an overstatement. 

[00:15:38] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, I think you would build an appreciation for what it takes to make it all work. I think engineers have this problem, all the way to marketers in my experience where there is like a lack of empathy for what it takes to make this whole operation function in the way it does, right? When you, when you're in a slightly bigger company, or even a startup of like 50 people, at that point, there's already so much work done to get you to a point where you are isolated from thinking about what it takes to get the office that you're standing on and make sure that like your payroll.

[00:16:16] Comes in time and you can email someone when things break or like, all these things of like what it takes to actually run, run the company all the way to what it takes to build the product or make it available to someone. I think people lose empathy over time, especially at these large companies.

[00:16:35] We work with some massive corporations. There is like 20 people involved in making the simplest thing happen, and they're also far removed from how the product is built and, and how everything is sort of functioning that we have to remind the team on the other side sometimes, like, come on these calls with the customers.

[00:16:57] Cause it seems like you don't even know what you're selling and let us like, show you what they want. Cause we're the marketer, so our default state is let's at least talk to the customers and see what the products look like. But there's a lot of that. And when you, when you build the company, You get that point of view, do you, do you feel like that now you think a lot more holistically about growth and that like you care about the dollars and dollars out way more than you did before this experience?

[00:17:24] Vikas Hebbar: A hundred percent. Not only do I feel like, I got this sort of financial business strategy, rigor and also like preto principle, I learned really what that means and that focus your energy on the things that matter. Because you can't afford not to, and it's kind of flipped when you're in a big organization, a lot of times you're focusing so much time on stuff that actually doesn't ladder up to any meaningful metric.

[00:17:48] And so that is super important. And then also like maybe it's just, again, this is one of the silver linings maybe in my career path, is that for me, I kind of look at things like brand, community, growth, acquisition, retention. I see them all as like very closely related. They're all different, sort of, they have different roles maybe in terms of if you think of how like, a well functioned marketing team, what they should, how they should work together.

[00:18:13] But like for me, it was very comfortable. Jumping and wearing these different hats, and they're all, because they're all kind of, if you do it right, they're all very connected and they're all kind of trying to achieve ultimately the same thing. So I think that going through those phases and then having that sort of capstone project, if you will, of like trying to do my own thing really helped me get that like full understanding. 

[00:18:36] Nima Gardideh: I like that a lot. And I wanna fast forward a little bit cause I feel like now I understand your sort of like basis as a marketer of like, you've been in a different couple different places at this point. You now have like a sense of what it, how hard it is to actually make these things work and build a company, but also how all of this is connected.

[00:18:57] Let's step back. I wanna understand how you think about these different areas. You just said brand, you said things like acquisition. I think your roles were at the points called growth marketing and you said this that I liked a lot. They're all trying to do the same thing. What is that thing that they're trying to do?

[00:19:17] Vikas Hebbar: Marketing in general, like abstract, what, what is the sort of point of marketing in my opinion, it's really connecting. A super deep and real understanding of who your audience is and then trying to convince them to purchase your product or service. And we can tease that apart and kind of find edge cases where that might not be fully real, but maybe we're gonna adjust some of those words a little bit if you're doing marketing for a non-profit or something like that.

[00:19:45] Right. But essentially it comes down to understanding who your customer or your audience really is. And once you kind of abstract that out, you kind of think of like what is the purpose of brand marketing? And so what is, what are some of the things that brand marketing even does? Right? We think about when you're working on a brand team, you think about functional and emotional benefits. You try to do?

[00:20:08] segmentation, you build your brand promise, all these kind of things. That's all rooted in trying to understand who that customer is or potential customer is gonna be. And so that's super foundational and. What then? And if you think about like what community is, community is just sort of exercise and learning and responding and engaging with that audience. And So finding out what actually motivates them. And sometimes it's something as simple as coupons if you're in e-commerce or something like that. And that's a little bit of a cop out. But a lot of times, like when you're in gaming is developing like complex programs and incentive structures to get them to be advocates for your game, whether it's online or in real life.

[00:20:48] If you're playing in tournaments and things like And then growth is really taking all these things, these insights about your customers or your potential customers, and then activating and convert and converting them. And so all those things are really, what they're all trying to do is take this,

[00:21:04] like deep understanding of who these folks are and trying to get them into your world. And so there's, maybe you can think of it as a baton pass or not, but they all need to be, they all need to understand each other. If your brand team is coming together with a brand plan and segmentation and, and benefits ladder and things like that, then your community team is talking to a whole different group of people, and then your growth team is doing like really watered down messaging that appeals to everybody. You're just leaving so much on the table but when they're all aligned, it's such a virtuous.

[00:21:35] Nima Gardideh: I wanna push back on that a little bit, about convincing people to buy or use the product, right. I think we're pretty. Let me ask you why you think you have to convince people? The product is the thing and it's like a solution to their problem. What are you doing to convince them?

[00:21:58] Vikas Hebbar: Yeah, that's a really great question. And I think also I do wanna say that some of this should be in the context of smaller, faster growing companies. Just the idea of being able to, like me, have the audacity to say, I feel comfortable talking about brand and like helping develop a brand promise.

[00:22:18] And I can also feel like I could do community. That's like, that's audacious thing to say. But I think that these things, when I, at least the way I see it, they're sensible when you're talking about a company that's growing when you kind of have no choice but to think of these other things.

[00:22:32] To some degree, when I was doing my own thing and it was me and my. Partners, we did all this stuff and more, right? All you have to wear all the hats at once. When you get to these larger companies, if you're working for a Disney or a big CPG company and stuff like that, some of this stuff may or may not apply in the same way. Like you gotta have, you have a team that all they're thinking about is brand. And if you get them?

[00:22:51] To work on a growth plan and stuff like that, maybe it doesn't even make sense cause you're not even thinking about growth in the same way. Right? So let's just like put that out there for one. So you're talking about a company that, for example, has pretty low brand awareness.

[00:23:03] And you're trying to grow and then if you're a company that has low brand awareness, but there's a lot of competition, so how do you cut through the noise there? So I can have like an amazing product, I can even have a great deal for the product, but the brand salience is not there. People, the recall is not there.

[00:23:20] People don't really associate with you yet. They're gonna be super comfortable going to a Starbucks anywhere they go. Why would they go to Nima's Cafe? 

[00:23:29] So that's why you have to somehow figure out a way to get them to be like, I have this association, this mental emotional, functional association with the Starbucks in my life, and it's something I know and I'm gonna go there.

[00:23:41] Why should I then cross the street and go to your Nima’s cafe? That's, in a way, an analogy of what I'm trying to say. So I have to kind of convince that person, Hey, cross the street. Come over here. What can I tell them to get them to do that. 

[00:23:52] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, I think so. This is an interesting part. I think you and I. Actually maybe don't differ in that, but I feel that that convincing part has more to do with the product development than it does growth in marketing. Because the way I think about it, and maybe we're aligned cuz you did bring up the bigger company thing in that I think the brand definition and, and the way you position yourself, it just changes over time.

[00:24:23] And in the beginning you're still not convincing people. In my opinion, there are people out there that want to just try out the new thing, and they want to be exploratory. They're curious. They're willing to give out new companies a try, and your job is to find those people. And then as the product team comes in and talks to those people, figured this out, really what their problems are and expands on the product's quality and, and it's abilities, then as a growth marketer or brand person, I'm going to then look at it differently.

[00:24:57] I'm like, oh, I have to now go after the next stage of the demand curve, and so then I'm gonna change my perspective. And so I'm going to. Reach out to the other people that the product is not ready for and sort of like slowly go through this progression. So I think we're talking about the same thing.

[00:25:16] You're the convince and I think lot of marketers, I generally don't like it and think it, there is plenty of likes to be had about just this wording of this, of this, but I think we're, we're pretty aligned in that like, Your job is to find the right people at the right time and if you do that well, I think you don't have to do much convincing.

[00:25:43] That's all I get. Think I'm saying

[00:25:45] Vikas Hebbar: Totally fair points. And I, I specifically chose that word because I know that that's, , it's a little bit of a hard word for most of us to swallow. Like, we'll all prefer other words other than that. And, and to be fair, you are. This is an oversimplification. Like I said, to some degree we have, we could swap out some words here and there and try to build a, maybe a more tailored definition of what marketing is for different types of stages of companies, categories, whatever or maybe there's some comprehensive one that covers it all. We can wordsmith it together. 

[00:26:15] But I think one thing you brought up that was interesting about the role of product and marketing, that's a super interesting area. I think I would love to hear you. Other experts on this and your discussions, I'm sure you've had many people on what that even looks like.

[00:26:29] I mean, I know that you are very passionate about word culture or design. It's something that comes up a lot in these podcasts and it's such an interesting thing. Where does the role of marketing in and product begin? And especially as a growth team, a lot of us, like I have an open rec out for a growth lead and like you could look at that and be like, is this a product manager?

[00:26:47] Position or is this a marketing position And like I see Mix panel, I see all these other things that product folks use all the time. sequel. so that is a very interesting thing there. Like where does that like line end? And then the other piece of this is also like acquisition. If we're just talking about the signup or we're just talking about starting a trial or something like that, that's one thing.

[00:27:06] And then activation. So like in my world, at least in a lot of recent exercise and projects that I've been part of, marketing has been sort of like bring the horse to the. And then the activation is getting the horse to drink the tasty water. And that's like the product team's job, right? So, and sometimes you have a situation where it's like a freemi model or you have some other like irresistible dynamics in which you don't have to do any of the convincing on the marketing side.

[00:27:31] Just find the right people expos 'em to your messaging they're in now it's up to the product to be excellent. And some cases like, I mean, maybe we can talk a little about healthcare in, in our, my current. Healthcare is you're being bombarded all day with messaging around healthcare. It's very confusing.

[00:27:46] It's already expensive, even if you have insurance and then now you have a service that's saying like, Hey, healthcare, but you also have to pay $15 a month. So just getting that initial to the door, I have to do little extra legwork to explain what the value even is, , because it's not enough to just expose them to sort of what the brand is. At that point, I have to kinda con convince them. 

[00:28:06] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, there is like a, I think that I'm also probably taking too strong of a position against that word, but the thought process is for me that the right person at the right time is what's very important here. And then it takes all of what you just said, like the right branding, the right community thought process, the right growth marketing process all underneath it to make sure that not.

[00:28:29] Are you bringing on people, but they're the right people and they're in the right portion of this sort of demand curve given the stage of your company, your product, and your brand. Right? And this part of like, I think we can spend another two hours just talking about what you just said, but I'm curious what you think about this part, which is basically, Historically, at least, and still even now in a lot of cases, right?

[00:28:56] The marketing team is in charge of bringing essentially top of funnel traffic to a large degree. But really what that nowadays means is someone at least becoming a lead of some sort, installing an app, signing up for something, filling out a lead form like, let's say. First step in a funnel in e-commerce, maybe it's a little bit different where people are going straight for the purchase, but in, in most complicated industries, healthcare being one of the most complicated industries, It's kind of an earlier part of the journey and the relationship that the brand is building with the company with the customer.

[00:29:34] Do you agree with that? Do you feel like that's a good idea? Do you think you should care most about the bottom line of the thing, because ultimately that is what you want to really care about as a business, right? Dollars and dollars out. And the out maybe takes like months to see, but you still have to care about it. Like and specifically in your current role, how does that work? There are, I'm sure multiple marketing leaders in your org right now. How do you guys think about it?

[00:30:04] Vikas Hebbar: Yeah, that's such an interesting question. And of course the obvious answer is it depends. But beyond that you're right. Healthcare is sort of a very high consideration purchase decision, if you will, and it can take days, weeks, months, to actually from somebody to be exposed to you as an option and actually deciding to proceed with you.

[00:30:24] It's strangely, it's not that different from luxury fashion, which I was in as well, in which sometimes it's 40, 50 different touches over three months to actually get the convert on the $1,200 handbag. But of course totally different aside from that. But in these cases, you have to sort of think about the funnel and what different organizations or teams actors are playing around that funnel and including like the bigger it is, the more you think about your own customers, as advocates for your funnel and as a part of your funnel. So like more practically speaking, how I think of it in our, in my current role, att up. Is that, we have, let's just like oversimplify the marketing funnel, right?

[00:31:06] We have like awareness, consideration, purchase, maybe repurchase or loyalty or advocacy, whatever. I see like our brand and PR teams, for example, really high funnel, like above the funnel almost like what do we stand for? Why should you care? Why are we different? Those kind of things. And then I see our product marketing.

[00:31:25] As operating it towards the bottom of that funnel. Now that you've, now you've signed up, like why should you activate? Why should you book an appointment? What kind of services are available? How can we make you stick around, connect you to others? Also thinking about referrals and all those kind of things.

[00:31:40] And then, and this is not saying, this is how it should be done. This is how we do, we are doing it. And I would love your thoughts on this. I see growth as everything in between that. And so if I'm the growth team, we're getting all these hopefully great qualified eyeballs and. And then we have this wonderful product that we know is compelling, that we know is like a moment of delight waiting to happen.

[00:32:00] How do we get them through that funnel as quickly as possible? And so I'm thinking of it as like the simplest context is Yeah, the simplest con way for me to think about it and for me to sort of like think about what is, what should my team care about the most? Like let's have a priority stack is new members. And of course it's not the end of the job, but if I'm gonna organize a team that needs to focus on something, they can actually move, they're getting new members. And then we abstract a little bit. And I think about like sort of the marketing team as a whole, and we think about things like members who get activated.

[00:32:34] Because now we're talking about are we bringing in the right kind of traffic that actually activates, because if you activate within a certain time, you're more likely to be retained and then you have a more meaningful LTV metric and a ton of other factors. Your business get improved if that.

[00:32:47] And then if you abstract one more layer out as an organization, you think about LTV and lowering your cap and all those kinda things and that's where you have not just marketing, you have finance involving decisions, And you have maybe leadership maybe even the board.

[00:33:01] Nima Gardideh: And do you think this, so new members is actually let just ask you what does Tia do and then we can, we can talk about the words you used, like new and activation, what those mean in the.

[00:33:13] Vikas Hebbar: Absolutely. So, I started in March and Tia is basically a one stop shop for women's healthcare across primary care, gynecology, mental health, wellness. We're virtual and in person and the kind of philosophy is around this idea of whole woman, whole life, online, offline.

[00:33:36] So really thinking of the current landscape for women's healthcare is very fractured, disjointed providers don't talk to each other. It's very confusing. It's expensive. There's just so much left to be desired in it and I'm in a household filled with women. I have two daughters and my wife, my mother-in-law's a big part of our life and my parents as well too.

[00:33:56] And I see the, I see these, like, I see it with my own eyes, like how broken it's, and so TIA is an attempt to start to fix that and start to, , do this really important work. I mean, there's a, as a term that our founder uses a lot, , that women are the CEOs of the healthcare of the household. Kind of paraphrasing there in the sense that women make most of the household's healthcare decisions.

[00:34:18] Something like 80% plus of sort of the household decisions and also how much of healthcare costs, are really around female and so it's just from a, like a problem statement, it's just very, very compelling. I think what tia's trying to do and from a vision it just clicks in my head.

[00:34:37] Like, so there I was like product market fit in my head and I mentioned this moment of delight before, if you just wanna see it for yourself. There's so much UGC out there of women that go into a Tia clinic for the first time and just post it. Like, we're not asking for this because the experience is unlike anything they've ever done.

[00:34:55] Ever seen before and so when I saw that, I'm like, okay, they're doing something really special. And so how does it work? It's a membership model. So this goes back to when I was saying like, how do I convince somebody to pay $15 a month or $150 a year for this membership? So we have to somehow reveal and convey that moment of delight and that value and how this is completely different and solves so many of the issues that you so intimately feel and are aware of in.

[00:35:21] Nima Gardideh: And so you become a member. It's like a monthly subscription, and then there is more things on top of that. Is that what you call activation, or is the member moment of like someone becoming a paid subscriber and activated person?

[00:35:32] Vikas Hebbar: No, what we define activation as like booking your first. And specifically we have kind of our flagship appointment. It's the Total Women's Health exam and it's like this multi-part exam that starts off one with the virtual visit in which sort of, it's like a download the provider gets to know everything about you that you wanna share, including things like, mental health history, like what's going on in your life.

[00:35:55] And also the whole idea is to kinda understand what does good look like for you? Not having a provider say like, you need to be this weight and you need to have this, or have that. Like what is. You as a whole woman, like what is a healthy lifestyle seem like for you? And then come in clinic for your in person diagnostics and appointments and stuff like that.

[00:36:12] So activating is really starting that process and we see people that go through that process reveal the value of TIA and stick around. 

[00:36:20] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. That. So yeah. If I were to now zoom back out, like the growth team being more in charge of new members, which still does. Require you to become a pretty significant part of this flow, which is I'm signing up, putting my credit card down and then the activation part being more on and, and there's like a big operations part of doing activation.

[00:36:43] So it does make sense for that to be abstract their way to a different team To me, , with one caveat, which is you. Are dealing with a quality problem still, like I assume some campaigns, some approaches, some channels are bringing on paid members that are less likely to activate. , and so this is the part that always breaks down for me, right?

[00:37:12] , it's almost, it's always like this, right? The ultimate, ultimate thing that puts the customer. In awe of your product, why they should use it, why they should become an advocate of yours. It's still connected to the work that more top of the funnel folks are doing, but it's almost always disconnected in terms of OKRs and then how they care about it.

[00:37:35] And I have a lot of empathy for that problem because I understand it's like very hard. It's very hard to do it, because as a marketer, you just do not have any control over. Some part, like a lot of parts of it, right? Like in this instance, like how well the ops team is run and how ready they are to schedule activations and all this sort of stuff.

[00:37:56] Like get very low control over that part, the org, I assume and so do you personally hold yourself accountable to this like, activation thing? How do you have these conversations? Of course, the quality of the traffic and the quality of the members that we bring in based on the stage of their life and where they are.

[00:38:17] Matters for this activation thing to work well, you do have a very broad product, so that does help, I would say. Right? But it's not always the case and so how do you think about that? Are there conversations around that? It's just so smooth selling that it doesn't matter. Maybe I'm completely wrong about it.

[00:38:33] About how maybe some campaigns or channels have different quality of member to activate, activate it rate or whatever you call that metric, but, I assume that that's something you.

[00:38:45] Vikas Hebbar: Yeah, a hundred percent. So just strictly speaking, if I'm gonna be like, this is on my mid-year review or whatever, like that activation rate is not one of those things. So I'm not in these meetings, these leadership meetings and stuff saying like, this is how we've improved our activation rate, however, I'm, of course I feel a lot of ownership or involvement in that rate because I also feel like we, like, to your point should be driving traffic and signups from people who are more likely to activate like we want.

[00:39:14] That's good for the business, , and we think about working together for the business. So, Yeah. So it's sort of like a slight cop out answer to your question, but no, I mean, it's not like the thing, I think, and it's certainly not the thing I tell my team to think about on a day to day basis. But we are gonna retro that and if we run a campaign, and I'm not gonna tell them okay, care about their activation rate because it's not a lever that they can really even optimize for that much.

[00:39:37] Right? So basically, cuz once you're inside of our system, we don't have any event tracking or anything like that. So we literally can't optimize for that. but we can post hoc it. So if we run a campaign, we run, open up a new channel. And I can just tell my team, we need to open up this new channel or my agency and let's run it for a couple of months.

[00:39:55] And we start seeing like bonanza numbers, people are coming through like gangbusters. and then we start seeing like huge drop offs in churn in a couple months. Like there's a post that goes into that. And then I might make a call, even though for my metrics and quotes, we did great. It's not, they're not activating and they're churning.

[00:40:13] So I'm gonna try to kill that channel to help that activation. So we're actually like literally looking at that right now. We had a huge unlock this year with TikTok and it was an interesting one. I'd love to get into with you if we have the time. But we got a lot, I mean, I think a lot of people are experiencing this where they

[00:40:32] get brave and they go into TikTok and if you do it right, they start seeing a ton of traffic for like really, really cheap. And you feel like this is Facebook 2010 or whatever, all over again. and so that's great and everyone's excited and we have these new growth me growth metrics, but I'm also like, wait, let's see what these members actually do in how they behave in our final and how they activate and are they really like a solid 12 month cohort or are, is this not the right? So like there's a little bit of that. We are doing that post hoc. 

[00:41:02] Nima Gardideh: Yeah.  I feel for you, because this is like a classic problem, especially in the industry you're in, there is a massive operations part that may be the blocker of the, of the sort of the activation rate. And so it's very hard, at least in like much more obvious industries like SaaS. When I hear that the marketers just care about the MQL and not the care, they do not care about maybe the conversion of an MQL to like an SQL or a closed one.

[00:41:32] I get way more upset about that because like you do have control over that. Like, it's just not, it's not that bad and sales staffs are much easier to scale up and versus like physical spaces where you have to have operations set up. And support a group of members. We have something like, like 30-40% of our clients are in healthcare.

[00:41:52] So I really do feel your pain on that. But I'm glad there is like a thought process around that that should be conversations around, in my opinion as well and ideally you do have the data going in at, although there is all this like recent. Thoughts we've had around healthcare data going into ad networks.

[00:42:13] I don't know how you guys are dealing with that, but that's something that all of our clients are consider reconsidering now. And yeah, I'd love to ask you actually and you don't have to answer this if you feel like you don't wanna, but you obviously send some signals to these ad networks and that's healthcare information.

[00:42:31] Going to these books. It's obviously anonymized, I assume, and you're not sending here's the person and they signed up. But, do you name your events to add networks in a readable way? Do you like, what do you do there? Essentially, like, I don't wanna assess things, just hear out how you think.

[00:42:51] Vikas Hebbar: Yeah, that's a great question. And this is all in so much flux. We did a lot of research to like hospital systems and various healthcare companies and to see like, what they're doing and how they're doing it, and it's still sort of like the best practice and all this stuff is in my perspective at least, still developing.

[00:43:09] We are kind of, we are on the side of, of safety and, , Ethical imperatives and all that kind of stuff. So we do just as little as possible so that we can give just enough to the ad engines to get, get people ad platforms, to get people to our site. So we are definitely like not doing anything. Like I mentioned, we don't have events in our member portal.

[00:43:30] We don't, we can't tie anything our external ad platforms are doing to anything that happens as a member. And our, a data security team's very, very like focused and intentional about, like despite this line that bifurcates, are you,basically a visitor or you a. And so like we define a patient as anybody who just gives us any information, even if they don't sign up to be a member.

[00:43:52] So once you're one of those people, we're very, very guarded with what we track or pass anybody. So, that of course comes to the expense of certain targeting and a lot of things, levers that like a lot of other markers can use in other industries. But it is sort of like, the right thing to do and we have to play by those guard. 

[00:44:09] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, and I think the good news is, and if you're a marketer listening to this and thinking about healthcare, it's not as scary as you think. It is when you're not, don't have access to these events. Because what happens in that is that you're in auctions with everybody else who also doesn't have access to things.

[00:44:24] So you end up playing at pretty like, , a level playing field, with all the other healthcare companies. So it turns out we were very scared of entering market at least because one of the biggest things about our agency has been that we're very good at this data piece especially for these more complex business models.

[00:44:46] But our healthcare clients, some of them are sending just like yourself a page view event at best and we're pretty performing for them still. Right? I think that, and then it process is different and all that sort of stuff, but, yeah, it's an interesting world. 

[00:45:02] Vikas Hebbar: Do you find that with that has forced you, because this is kind of what it forced us to do to kind of almost turn back the clock in a weird way and like really focus on creativity, on messaging, copywriting, like things like that because you kind of have to. 

[00:45:17] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. We talk a lot about that and a couple of examples we have of these at scale health healthcare companies trying to acquire customers and still have like a decent cost of acquisition. Which by the way, I assume you're looking at first party data and getting to some cost per member, but it's just that you're not sending that Yeah. To the app network.

[00:45:39] Vikas Hebbar: Yeah. 

[00:45:42] Nima Gardideh: The way we think about it as an ad agency, and I think this is like goes back to what I just said, like the thing that we've been always good at is recognizing that these app networks are over time, moving towards using machine learning for targeting. And what feeds into the machine learning are really two things.

[00:46:01] One is the if empty sent back the signals you sent back, which in this scenario we do not have. But the other thing is, That the way you design the creative, the way you structure the creative and how it goes into the platform. So how you split up your assets and campaigns, , and, and paid social specifically.

[00:46:20] And on search it would be around how you group your keywords and intent and things like that matters. And so, we just do it far more complex job at the, that part of the, of the lever, which. How do we structure creatives in terms of production, messaging and approach, and then how do we fit them into assets in such all these different ways to make it so then we're teaching Facebook or TikTok.

[00:46:51] This is the type of person we want to see this ad because like, look at all these ads, they all look the same and they have the same vibe and like, so we have like a persona in our mind and sometimes we fit all of that in one and, and sort of take advantage of machine learning over fitting.

[00:47:07] And so it's an interesting sort of approach, but effectively it's the same thing. We just decided to not use the, that optimize. As the signal anymore and so you're getting a little bit less broad about using the same methodology, at least, like that's how we think about it but ultimately, yes, more, way more creativity.

[00:47:29] Vikas Hebbar: And it's fun. It's that's one of the things I've been in the silver, one of the silver linings out of all the chaos that's happened over the past couple years with tracking and everything in between. 

[00:47:39] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, it's definitely been fun. I think, we were talking about this, I think that the future of the industry is going more towards these two things. And so like the media buying part of our company, which was originally the biggest team is becoming the smallest team. Because they put the ads on and they kind don't touch it for like a week because it's actually best practice to not touch it for like a week or two.

[00:48:01] And so, they're spending a lot of thinking about the allocation and so that's a totally different, I think field and they're learning how to think about data in that way. but creative and then the events that go back and how you think about the events that go back, I think are. The name of the game right now, and it's just what works. Because the style of these ad networks.

[00:48:25] Vikas Hebbar: Absolutely. And you said capital allocation. I mean, I feel like that is one of my unwritten job responsibilities is to really be a capital allocator. And what that also implies is that you're a forecaster and you are thinking about all these different things, like where is the company gonna be in three months across all of our markets and how should we allocate capital accordingly?

[00:48:46] And in a world in which, our old models of attribution are maybe becoming less reliable, looking for signals that can make us confident. In allocating capital in appropriate ways is I think in a lot of ways becoming more challenging. I'm curious how you think about that and if you've seen like a best practice, for example, like, mm ms if you are fortunate enough to have something like that, can be a potential bridge between attribution, incrementality, and it can kind of give you a level of confidence perhaps if it has enough data and you trust the model to be like, this is where I should allocate versus intuition experience and maybe even more old school attribution. 

[00:49:23] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. That's a good question. And I feel like we can just spend another hour on this one as well. But, the way I like bucket these things together in my head is basically this, right? So attribution modeling, let's say like the old school one, right? People are clicking things. I'm tracking them to some spend either directly or fuzzy matching.

[00:49:44] And saying, here's my cost dynamics, there is like a hundred dollars I spend in these three channels and then two comes out. Right. I think what that really tells you is how are my current campaigns doing? That's kind of the answer. It is able to provide incrementality and it's sort of like very nascent forms without mixed modeling.

[00:50:09] It's kind of asking this question of like, is my modeling correct? Right. Is my attribution model weighting things correctly? Right. That's kind of the answer it's providing to you. Right? And I think you should be doing that stuff constantly, right? Just like run tons of incrementality tests, use the results to like reweight your attribution model.

[00:50:32] And also you can like get a better sense of. What your actual cost dynamics are and things like that. And then marketing mix modeling, which is actually super old, right? And for me it's very new as well, I think for you as well. It's just, I'm, for people who remember this thing existed, brought it into our worlds, but it's, it's from like the sixties or something like that.

[00:50:54] A totally different question in my opinion, which is where should my next dollar go? And this is, it's a super world of like very fuzzy information, market level information combined with your internal data and what initial signs you're seeing in these channels, what auction dynamics are based on, like what other people are seeing.

[00:51:20] You can put all those sort of assumptions in into a model like that. So then you can answer this question of like, if I spend another dollar, am I gonna get the same? Efficiency as I'm currently getting. And I think you and I have talked about this briefly around marginal ca like does it have the same power?

[00:51:42] And if it does, then let's do it. If it doesn't, then I have to go through a calculus of what is the equilibrium of spend, such that I continue to grow but not lose out. On capital that I could be using elsewhere in the organization or in other channels or in other forms of growth. Right. So it becomes a pretty hard problem.

[00:52:07] I think the only a handful of marketers in the world I know are doing it well. I would say we're still in the process of learning how to do it well. I do think it's where our world is moving towards, especially as. We move away from a duopoly. Right now we have Google Ads, we have TikTok, we have Facebook and Instagram.

[00:52:26] We have now YouTube is like a decent channel, right? And Twitter, who knows after Musk's purchase and might come back. Who knows? Now in a world where the mix is more important than ever. And also tech is not the standard. And so you're not competing with everybody else. And so

[00:52:48] I think this type of stuff is becoming very important to scale up. With that said, if you're only spending like 20 K a month and are on like one or two channels, you give so much space. I think it's more important when you're kind of stuck in this space of, well, I'm spending a couple hundred thousand dollars now and it's getting pretty complicated.

[00:53:10] There's overlap between audiences and I really have to think about it as gedge against the existing spend, whereas it go and really you're doing capital allocation at this point. So, you have to become way more sophisticated at I think doing it than what we were doing before historically 

[00:53:31] Vikas Hebbar: Yeah, that's oh, sounds very, Right to me. And, you mentioned where this is where the world is going. I think a lot of us, especially for in the venture backed kind of space this year was a wild one, right? We all had to kind of figure out what do we do with this new lay of the land and how do we start to really think about things like profitability and all this stuff, and

[00:53:53] that's where marginal CAC is now something that we like deeply care about. And, and if I look at, on a market basis, each market for that I look at has this inflection point. When we spend beyond a certain point, all of a sudden c starts to, just starts to skyrocket at that point. So how do we gradually keep moving that inflection point higher and higher?

[00:54:11] These are things that we have like, sort of no choice but to try to understand, unlock and there's so many hypotheses that are kinda coals in the fire right now for us but I'd love to kinda like reconvene at some point and see how that, what people are doing and how we're, how we're thinking what's actually been successful after a year in this new world. 

[00:54:30] Nima Gardideh: Yeah. And what I'm super curious about how you guys go through the next cycle of capital raises and what the markets will value and, and I'm the one like, in our company that thinks about capital markets in general. Because I'm in charge of growing the company and one of the things that we're highly indexed on is the capital markets. Cause we have a lot of startups that we work with. And

[00:54:56] it's the number one fear I have is it's just the unknown of how people will price companies and how investors are going to think think about capitalizing companies in the next two years as the cost of capital has increased. Do you have already changed your mindset? Is it just a conversation at this point? What's changed so far this year for you?

[00:55:23] Vikas Hebbar: Yeah. I mean at the, the headline is really, it's no longer growth for growth's sake. We can advertise or think about membership targets and all that kind of stuff. Those are very, very important. And those do actually play into like a. market that has a lot more members at some point hits a point of profitability, faster.

[00:55:43] if we scale the membership growth versus if we take a slower and more profitable approach, it might actually take longer to be profitable, if that makes sense. So sometimes it's worth it to put an investment ahead. So you have like fed the market with a lot of customers, we're gonna start paying you back.

[00:55:56] So there's like a little bit of balance there. But I think beyond that, one thing that we are like really thinking about is our C payback windows. Which I think we thought about a lot less before because it was more like, , we have this runway where there's a series XYZ ahead, whatever. Right?

[00:56:10] And so we're gonna get through it and they'll ultimately become profitable. We're confident in But now those things are becoming much more important and we have to look at our CAC payback windows and whatever we thought was like an aggressive window. It's more aggressive than that. Like what we're seeing in the markets is that people want, are very hesitant to like fund businesses that have these long CAC payback windows.

[00:56:30] Cause it's too much uncertainty. And they're like, who's still out there? That's got and it's gonna be business and category dependent. If you're an ecom business or a SaaS company that doesn't have a lot of infrastructure, It's not the same as if you're brick and mortar and you're hiring surgeons and doctors or whatever else, right?

[00:56:45] So, but with that said, even so that's like a really big emphasis for us for now is like, how can we get our CAC payback windows shortened? What are the levers that we have to do that and but still hit growth targets, so that we can get those markets like overall operationally profitable quicker. 

[00:57:02] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, we're seeing very similar things and it's great to hear that you guys are talking about these things. Like interestingly, maybe something like 20, 30% of our clients are not talking about these things, even though we are pushing it and it scares me. It scares me for sure and maybe, they know things that I don't, and that's always like part of the equations of like, well, are still capitalized, that we don't care about what you're talking about here or something different.

[00:57:33] This fundamentally going on but I'd love to, yeah, check in it, check in with you in a few months. Get a sense of how, I assume lots went around to the data infrastructure of thinking about this payback period stuff and, and how you think about even activation rates may have become an important part.

[00:57:50] So, I'll stop then. So much for spending time. Yeah. Catching on here. And yeah, I'll have you on here sometime soon. We'll talk.

[00:58:02] Vikas Hebbar: I'd love to thank you For having me. Like I mentioned to you before, I've become a huge fan of this podcast. Love what you all are doing with this. This is really something special in a sea of various marketing voices and just honor to part of and a lot to talk about.

[00:58:19] Nima Gardideh: For sure. Thanks for that testimonial. We're gonna for sure use it in the ad for this episode. 

[00:58:25] Appreciate you a lot. I've been mostly trying to. Do this out of curiosity and trying to learn from others. And it's happened to also help our company at the same time. But, originally started because I just thought it would be interesting to use a platform like this to understand how people think about growth more. Just a general area I'm interested in.

[00:58:50] Vikas Hebbar: Yeah, and just for the record, any new clients you get from that ad, that's a $0 cap.

[00:58:58] Nima Gardideh: Yeah, I had to do no work. It's just you showed up, and did it. Appreciate you so much gratitude for you being here. And, we'll see you soon. 

[00:59:08] Vikas Hebbar: See you Nima. Thanks so much. Have a good one. 


[00:59:10] Nima Gardideh: And that's a wrap. Thank you for listening and being part of this experience with me. It's been Very fun year recording these. Special thank you to Leah and the team behind this. We're putting all of these together and helping schedule everyone in. These are quite long conversations we have with these growth folks and founders of these amazing companies.

[00:59:37] And this has been a really fun experience for me. Really dig into my own psyche of what's interesting to me and understand how that can be interesting to you. So we've got a lot of amazing guests coming next year. It's starting to become a little bit more of a recurring experience here, where we're recording something new every couple of weeks now and people want to be on the show.

[01:00:01] So it's been really cool to see the show grow. As always, please follow, give us a five star rating on Apple Podcast or Spotify or YouTube. These are the sort of general areas we're growing the podcast, and that would be the greatest gift you could give this year. See you on the next one.