Boston Growth Marketer Interview #3: Andrew Capland

Andrew Capland Wistia.png

Andrew Capland has made an exceptional career out of growth. He’s a marketing geek at heart and has worked with all types of clients like Bank of America, Disney, and Aflac in his ad agency days, and over 250 different startups while at HubSpot.

Andrew leads the Growth and Marketing efforts for Wistia's video marketing product, where he's responsible for accelerating their online growth through new user acquisition, activation, and e-commerce.

He’s happiest when getting to tinker his way to success, but also teaching others the system to get there.

Ian: How did you become interested in growth marketing?

Andrew: I was always interested in marketing and sort of fell into Growth. I realized when I was about 19, that I was interested in learning more about marketing. I never meant to focus on marketing, but I was fascinated by how multifaceted it was. I’m not super artistic. So I gravitated towards the more analytical & psychology side of things - how you could influence action.

My first job after college was working at a big ad agency, Digitas. I was a small cog in a very big machine working on paid ad campaigns. My first few clients were Disney and Bank of America. Their budgets were huge and they had a ton of process. This was in 2008, when banner ads were still relatively new and super popular. Both Disney and BofA did tons of a/b testing on their ad creative and campaigns. Disney would run like five different sets of ads; Micky, Pluto, Daffy, Snow White, etc, all promoting the same offer. And BofA did the same thing. They’d test the impact of different colors, landing pages, and ad copy with an eye on conversion.

Digitas had entire departments devoted to analyzing and sharing the learnings from those tests.

Before big promotions, both companies would run small campaigns testing lots of different variables - ad formats, creative, landing pages, and channels. They’d use the campaigns to learn which was most effective in promoting a specific offer. Then, they'd do a much bigger campaign once they’d sorted out the details.

I was fascinated by the process. I found myself making bets with co-workers on which ad creative would be the most effective. I was usually wrong haha. But, that just made me more interested in learning what things influenced user behavior, and why.

This was my first job. I was relatively green and naively assumed this was how every company made decisions. By testing first and then optimizing what worked.

Later, I was in a meeting for another client at the agency. The team spent the whole meeting debating which creative concept would be most effective. The Creative Director and the Account Manager had different opinions on which idea would be the most effective for the client. It seemed to be a battle of egos more than anything. And I found myself wondering why they didn’t just run a few tests to find the right answer vs making it about personal preference.

That always kinda stuck with me.

Later, I worked at HubSpot and got to work hands-on with small businesses. Working at HubSpot was a blast and got to work with hundreds of small businesses over my time there. I would encourage my clients to take that same testing process to solve their marketing problems; testing, learning, and iterating to find the best solutions. But I realized that many small businesses didn’t have enough traffic to find statistically valid answers. And, I realized that many marketers seemed to prefer their ideas vs risking being wrong.

I started working at Wistia in 2015. I felt like I could use my skills and experiences to make an impact on the business and the culture. Wistia has a high-volume freemium business and encourages employees to think outside the box. Failing is encouraged (as long as we’re learning). So it was the perfect environment for me to leverage my background and make an impact. I found myself using that same process I learned at Digitas and using the data/benchmarks I saw during my time at HubSpot, to focus on the right areas.

Eventually, I started working on projects that I didn’t have any experience with. So, I started fine tuning the process to get the right answer quickly vs trying to be right. See a business opportunity, gather information, brainstorm potential options, try a few different solutions, analyze the data, and then scale what works. That process turned into a team - the Growth team. And that team worked on hundreds of different projects; from website conversion work, user onboarding, product adoptions, and the Wistia pricing model.

I’m thankful to be in an environment that gives the freedom to fail. Because we’ve learned so much through those failures, which has helped us make better decisions on other projects.

Ian: How do you describe your job to a stranger? Why?

Andrew: I usually say my job is to learn what’s most important to our users, then work with our marketing & product teams to highlight those things that generate more engaged users and customers.

How would you describe your personality?

Andrew: Curious, determined, analytical, and I typically hate following the rules (haha).

Ian: What type of personality do you think is best suited for growth marketing?

Andrew: Someone who cares a ton about their users. I believe that if you have a relentless focus on helping people, you’ll be successful in growth.

If you find out what’s valuable to your users - you can help them. And if you help them, they’ll receive value. And that value will translate into engagement - and eventually, revenue. But if you try to over-optimize, or value your conversion rates more than the user experience, you might just end up driving a bunch of crappy signups that don’t understand how your product makes their lives better.

I also think you need to be curious. You can’t assume that you know the right solutions to every problem. And you can’t assume just because it worked for another company, that it will work for your business. You need to be open to new ideas and ways of problem solving.

Ian: What are top three areas (marketing or otherwise) you have the most expertise in?

Andrew:

  • Conversion rate optimization

  • User onboarding

  • Using data to influence user behavior.

Ian: How early in your life can you tie interests or experiences back to these 3 things you’re great at?

Andrew: I’ve always been curious and interested in data to understand problems and tell stories. I remember getting a speeding ticket at 16. Right after I got my license. I was so upset that I got this speeding ticket, which I absolutely deserved. But, I decided that I might be able to prove the radar gun was inaccurate. I bought a book on radar guns. And I read this book front to back and took notes. I had pages and pages of notes on tuning forks, calibration methods, and ways that those radar guns can be inaccurate. I went into the hearing 100% convinced I was getting out of the ticket. I used all this information to tell a story about how I might have been speeding a little, but there was no way I was driving as fast as the radar gun said. It wasn’t calibrated correctly and I deserved to have my tickets absolved.

I ended up getting the ticket reduced (not absolved), and probably should have just admitted to making a mistake and asking for forgiveness instead of pissing off our local police department. But I loved the process and the challenge.

My parents were convinced I would grow up to be a lawyer. Instead I got into growth.

How do you stay authentic to your goals and your values as a marketer?

As a marketer, you need to remember your job is to provide value to your users, on their terms, not yours. If you’re doing that, everything else falls into place. And if you’re not doing that, you’re probably sacrificing your brand for the sake of your conversion rates.

In addition to our experiments, a big part of how we’ve approached growth at Wistia, is to make sure the user experience is on point.

One way we prioritize the user experience is to watch our users and see where they get stuck. When we were focused on user onboarding, we’d watch our users use the product for the first time. We used a tool called Fullstory. We’d all grab lunch, cram in this little conference room, and fire up FullStory.

Through those sessions, we’d see times when our users were confused, lost, or clicking things that didn’t make any sense. We shifted our focus from trying to push new users towards a specific step, to helping them explore the product on their terms. That led to a bunch of ideas to improve the user experience, which was in line with our values.

Ian: How do you plan your career? How far out do you look on the horizon for planning?

Andrew: This is a great question. I typically plan my career 2-3 years out. I think about the job I’d like to have - and the work I’d like to do. I list out the skills and experience I think will be most important for me to be successful in that job. Then, I try to find opportunities in my week-to-week work now to pick up those skills. It’s worked out pretty well so far.

Ian: Why Wistia?

Andrew: I work at Wistia for a couple reasons:

1. The impact I can personally make here each and every day is massive. Our audience is so big that little changes can cause big ripples. And big changes can transform the outlook of the company. That’s pretty amazing and keeps me motivated.

2. I learn something every single day. Wistia encourages me to work on risky projects that might fail. I’ve learned more through those failures than I have from any book, conference, or course.

3. It feels more like a family business rather than a typical tech company. The way people communicate and treat each other is different here. A lot of that comes from the top down culture and is great.

Ian: What are some of the goals you’re working on now?

Andrew: About 10 months ago, we had a marketing leader depart the team. I was asked to rejoin our marketing team focusing on our main Video Marketing Product. Right now, we’re focused on growing the market and pioneering new and exciting ways to use video. It’s a bit different than the traditional growth work I’ve focused on in my career. But it has helped me learn new skills that I normally wouldn’t get the opportunity to explore.

Ian: What’s the biggest disappointment or surprise in terms of something you thought would work, but didn’t?

Andrew: I try not to think of a failed experiment as a disappointment. There’s always something to learn. Those learnings help us make better decisions down the road.

Probably the biggest surprise for me was an experiment we did last summer. We had seen our sales team increase their connect rates by utilizing one-to-one videos in their outreach. And we had seen our Activation rates increase by pre-loading a video in users accounts. We decided to combine both learnings. Our sales reps would quickly record a video and it would be automatically loaded in a new users account. We figured it would be an easy way to drive engagement in the product (when the users were most likely to engage), without having to rely on email. That project was pretty resource intensive and didn’t product any significant lift in our Activation rates, or any other metrics we were interested in.

Ian: Where do you think the best growth insights come from?

Andrew: The thing I love about growth is learning what works and what doesn’t work. Whatever thing you’re really excited about…probably doesn’t work. So before you invest a ton of time or money into it, create a system to learn and get feedback before your invest too deeply. I think the best growth insights come from trying things and seeing how your audience reacts to them. I like that a lot more than copying what I heard at a conference or some other companies blog post. Whenever I do that, I find it doesn’t work for us.

Ian: Is growth marketing here to stay? Where is the industry headed? What’s next?

Andrew: I think growth will shift from running a/b tests to optimizing the user experience. Folks who work in growth tend to be skilled at doing user research, collecting data, and use those skills to optimize the user experience at various stages in the funnel. I think the future of growth is really just optimizing that user experience. In some c

ases, that might mean removing friction, in some cases that might mean highlighting features & benefits, or sending contacts to the right sales funnel, etc. Those things will improve your growth rate via the user experience.

Andrew Capland can be found on Linkedin and his own website, www.andrew-capland.com.