The Pavilion Podcast
The Pavilion Podcast

Episode · 2 years ago

Ep 7: Bootstrapping to 8-figures feat Helen Rankin


Ep 7: Bootstrapping to 8-figures feat Helen Rankin

Book. Hello everyone and welcome to the revenue collective podcast. I am your launch host, Justin Welsh, member of the Los Angeles Chapter of revenue collective. In inside of these episodes we're going to feature ideas and conversations that are inspired by ongoing discussions within the revenue collective community across the globe. In inside of the RC slack channel. There has been a lot of talk recently around venture capital and one of our members shared an incredibly unique story about boots trapping her business to eight figures in just two years. We are going to cover that and the unique background of our guests, CMO and partner at Swag Up, Helen Rankin. And before we dive in with Helen, a few notes today. If you're out there listening and you want to join revenue collective, visit Revenue Collectivecom and click apply now. The second note is that our sponsor for June is outreach, the number one sales engagement platform. Outreach revolutionizes customer engagement by moving away from silod conversations to a streamlined, in customer centric journey. Leveraging the next generation of artificial intelligence, the platform allows sales reps to deliver consistent, relevant and responsible communication for each prospect every time, enabling personalization at scale that was previously unthinkable. All right, everyone, let's kickoff today's episode with our guest, Helen Rankin. Our guest today is Helen Rankin. Helen is the CMO in partner at Swag Up, the Swag Management Platform. Prior to swag up, Helen worked with top brands, generating leads for companies like Time Warner, comcast, Humana, High Oscar Home Depot. In more, nine months after building swag up, she and her partner grew the team from three employees to fifty eight and counting, and have been able to increase revenue to eight figures in less than two years. Helen has a story that...

...proves success can come in the most unconventional ways. Helen, so excited to have you on. How are you? Thanks for having me. No, I'm excited to be on your podcast. Awesome. You know, I was reading through the the bio that you you sent over this morning, Helen, and you have this really amazing story. Tell the audience a little bit about your journey to becoming the CMO in partner at Swag Up. Yeah, so, as you mentioned, I really have your unconventional like background. I didn't Finish College, I didn't come from like rich parents, I very much self made. So I started my career in marketing basically just teaching myself paid search ads when I was seventeen and I would offer those services to local businesses and I knew I loved marketing but I couldn't afford college, so I just stove right into digital marketing and then started to work at various different startups since I knew, you know, I wouldn't get accepted to these big corporate brands, they wouldn't hire me since I didn't have college background. So that's kind of where I started. I started working at different startups and working on their brands and it just kind of escalated from there. Awesome that you know that. That is an unconventional background, right you one that most CMOS like we don't have. You don't look at a lot of the CMOS across companies in see folks you know candidly that don't have a college degree? Our companies missing on opportunities to hire people with non traditional backgrounds? And, if so, how do they start finding more people like you, like like a Helen? Yeah, I mean I think they are missing out, especially with marketing. I don't think it's something that necessarily requires like a college degree. You know, you're not here in cancer or anything crazy, and the best marketers, I feel like, are just people that understand branding and understand positioning. And if... just look at the world just today, your top brands and top marketers didn't finish college. You Have Kim Kardashian, Ellen degenerous, you have Anna Wintour, who manages Vogue magazine. These are people that never finished college. So I think it's just the matter of when you're hiring, just not be so strict on having that requirement, and we do that ourselves here. I mean everyone we hire kind of comes from a a very non traditional background and we feel that people like that tend to have a lot more grit and are willing to kind of put a lot more skin in the game because they were never really given opportunities to begin with. Yeah, I've seen that. You know, there's a guy, a good friend of mine and a guy who I do some business with, named Kyle Johnson. He's the VP of marketing over at next health and used to work with me at my former business, patient pop. He was, you know, didn't didn't go to school, Engineer by trade and then turn that engineering into like what you would consider tinkering, and tinkering became marketing. So it's really neat to see folks with on traditional backgrounds just smashing successes. So congrats. You know, I think this conversation really started when I was in the revenue collective slack room and I was going through some of the resources that people were sharing and you released the swag up guide to bootstrapping to eight figures in under three years, and that that caught my attention. I thought that was really cool as a great read. And in it you say I'm a firm believer that most startups do not need to, nor should they bring on outside capital in the early stages. Can you talk to me about that in the context of a company like swag up? And I'm a huge, huge proponent of that. I've, you know, especially after working with different startups in my past, I've seen companies that have been self funded and the culture and the take that that that has on a company versus is ones that are, you know, venture backs to Coya backed, all of that fancy stuff, and it completely changes the company and... an entrepreneur, I think when you're just starting and you haven't really developed your client personas, you haven't really developed your product fully understanding what it is, and even haven't really defined what you want to culture, like, a company culture to be, like to compliment that, you really lose out on that. And I see so many people that they're like, I have this great idea, I want to go raise money. I'm like, you're literally going in there with nothing but a piece of paper and an yeah, and you know you're going to end up sacrificing equity, sacrificing defining your culture, defining what your product is, because you're now having to consult with someone else and your incentives are not aligned. When you're first starting, like you're excited to develop the product, you're a lot more adapt to like change it to very quickly, whereas an investor, if you have them involved now, you're kind of having to pivot towards whatever ideas they have because they're incentivized to get everyone that you know is invested in it get paid, whereas as an entrepreneur, as a partner, you're incentivized by just creating something and when you end up having, you know, venture capitalist too early. I feel like you kind of lose out on that. Yeah, I know, I can appreciate that. I've, you know, I've worked for both really big VC backed startups. I've worked for smaller startups that were bootstrapped. I've built my own business, so I know the pros and the cons and I think you know it's challenging when you got when you get a lot of really and of course, folks that fun businesses are highly intelligent. A lot of times they've been there and done that, but there are a lot of powerful personalities in one room and it becomes challenging to take your baby, your brand, your business, and put it down the right path, you know, if there's a lot of different strong opinions. So one thing that really caught my eye in...

...the article, and I can very much appreciate this having been a subten employe at about three different businesses, you talk about finding people who truly believe in the mission, not those who are, you know, laser focused on things like comp and benefits, and I've often referred to some of those early hires in my life is like the Purple Squirrel because they're so difficult to find for those companies out there bootstrapping in looking for those mission driven early hires. What some advice that you have that's worked really well for you? I mean, we hire based off of personality. To be honest with you, I really don't even look at resumes a lot of times. I like to kind of go off of my instinct of what is this person like? How are they talking to me? You know, what are they passionate about? I also like to see if they have any outside, you know, influences. Are they starting a book club? Are they starting a podcast? Do they are they self starters in some capacity? And we tend to hire people that, you have, have other interest outside of our business that are really strong, such as starting a podcast or book club, or their athletes and, you know, we're captains of teams, because I think that just shows that they're willing to start something from scratch and aren't afraid of that. Yeah, that makes sense. Do you think that? Do you think that you can bring hires early on into your business, especially a bootstrap business like swag up, if they, you know, aren't necessarily, I don't want to see, misaligned with with the vision or mission, but don't really care about the mission and there and they're looking for just a place to work it, or is that like a non starter for you? In the early stage? It have to be mission driven. That's it's a non starter. I it's just a waste of time and we've we've tried that. We've hired people that were necessarily, like very focused on swag up and it just doesn't work long run.

Like, in the long run you end up and as a startup, every person you bring in you're probably training them and I'm also running the business and I'm also doing twenty other things. So if I'm going to hire someone, I want to make sure that they're going to stay a little bit longer than a year or six months, because it's going to take me so much time to find the next person. So you're better off waiting and hiring the right person versus just, you know, getting in patient and hiring whoever's available. Yep, I tend to agree with you right. I think that, you know, I've definitely hired people in my past where they didn't necessarily live, sleep and breathe the mission, but they at least appreciated the mission, and I think is you get a little bit deeper in the company. I don't want to say it becomes less important, but obviously those those first five ten employees, I got to kind of just live and breathe that. That mission so really interesting that you're seeing the same thing. As you look back, you know, at this incredible ride, your boots trapping to eight figures. I'm going to assume that there have been some like oops moments right, some some mistakes where you wish you could go back in time and change. What are those for you at swag up, as you've been bootstrapping this business? I would say that one of the things that we probably should have done earlier on is just being a lot more transparent with our team, and that's something that we now adopt currently, is we share our revenue numbers, we share our cost we share a lot of information, and I think that's been super helpful because everyone just knows what their mission is. Everyone knows what they have to do every day when they come in. They know their goals, they know we're all working along each other. They can see that other teams are struggling with certain things, can sympathize them with them a little bit better, and that's something that I wish we would have done. I wish someone would have told me, like hey, be more transparent and tell your team, like, especially when you're early, like you don't really know what your culture... like, and I think company cultures huge as a big part of growth. And you know, we've been really lucky that we've been doing that for now the past year, that now things like what's happening in the world today with the pandemic are, true, totally fine, like they're just like cool, cool as a cucumber, like they're like not phased by any of it because they already know where we were financially. They know what our plans were, they know how scrappy and how like thin or you know, thin, we can go. Oh, I think so. I think the being transparent, I think that's something we should have done a lot earlier into the culture. Got It. So that's you know, that's a mistake, right. So that's something that you turned around. You fixed it. You know, I've been at companies who are both nontransparent and hypertransparent. I can say that the latter is as absolutely better. So great, great to see that that. It was a change that you made. You know, on the flip side of a mistake, like as you look back on this journey and you think, wow, there aren't a lot of companies that bootstrapped to aid figures. What something that swag up did that you're like, wow, that was a huge point in nailing this journey. What was what was something that stuck out to you as being a huge win for you guys? I mean I think we just like, I think we just a sounded ourselves with really great people. Everyone we brought on board. I mean Michael founded the company and then he brought me on to do the marketing and figure out the technology, and when we brought on our CTEO DAC, who I've worked in with various different scart ups in my past, I think that really change the company. I think, you know, it's really about finding where your weaknesses are and bringing in the right people, the right players and in place as as quickly as possible, and we've we've been really lucky in being able to identify that. I think that's definitely one of my one of my strong suits is just like recruiting the right people when we need them, like just having the right...

...pulse on that you can afford to get a lot of things wrong if you get great people. So that that's sort of always been my mantras. As long as I can find strong employees, like I can screw up a bunch of stuff, and as long as I have really smart people in my business, then I'm with you. It'd be interesting to learn. How are you guys changing to brace for the COVID nineteen impact? Has that had a major impact on your business? Absolutely, I mean, I think every I think everyone has, you know, whatever playbook you had thirty days ago, two months ago, like that just completely went out the window. It's allowed us to kind of think differently about our product and, honestly, like I think as a marketer, like this is the most exciting time for me because it now pushes me to think outside of the box, think a lot more creatively. So we've really change the way we position our product to kind of figure out, like, what are some solves that our product does for our clients. We're also seeing that we're now attracting different type of clients that we weren't before. So we're shifting with you know, what is going on around us. I mean now everyone's more into this virtual world. It's kind of trends that were already happening. I think this situation kind of is felerated that, you know, people are already doing virtual events and stuff, but now we're kind of like forced to. So we've kind of positioned ourselves to a line with that and, you know, create have swag kind of be part of that virtual experience and not just have it have people just stare at their computer, like it would be so much nicer if everyone's sharing the same coffee, the same you know guy items like. You know, there's ways to kind of humanize that using swag and we've been building the technology to come to integrate with those type of platforms to do that. It's great. Do you think that that swag up is is able to be nimble being a situations like this because of the fact that you're bootstrapped? Do you think there's an like a nimbleness, I guess, for lack of a better term, that comes with...

...that? Yes, absolutely. I mean, when you're a start up, you do, you just change things all the time, and our team's used to that. I mean sometimes you just like all right, we're going to test this today and you can you know, we don't have to go through all these things like it, and if anyone from our team has an idea, like, oh, can we test like this type of campaign, it's like, all right, write it up, let's put this email through this, you know, email list and let's send it out. Let's see what it performs like. So we're just able to move so much faster, whereas, like, if you have a company that has all these, you know, departments and things, it's just it's just a lot slower. You have to go through so many people. It's great. You heard it here. If you're in New York, New Jersey, swag up is a place to go if your nimble and you have good culture and you buy into the mission. So you heard it from Helen. Helen, we're kind of nearing the end of our time here together today, which means there's time for this one more segment that we love to do, and it's called quick fire five and it's just simply five questions where we get these top of mind real answers from executive revenue leaders like yourself. You're ready, yes, let's do it. Awesome. What is a book that Changed Your Life? I love the giving tree. It is and I know banquet and whenever people ask me this, the like the giving tree, I'm like, honestly, yes, like there's so many life lessons from that, not just personally but like even in business. I think that it teaches you to be selfless in that book, and that is something. As a leader you have to one thousand percent be selfless. And as a marketer, it just teaches you to constantly listen to your customer and figure out out solutions for them and, you know, adapt your product to what people actually need. So I think the books just like it's so simple, but it honestly has a lot of traits that you can apply to business. Love it. Marketers and leaders running out grabbing the giving tree,... it. I think. I like to think that that all of us are world class and something, regardless of how small our niche that thing is. What is something that that Helen is world class. And Yeah, I mean aside from marketing, I guess I would say that I've developed a really great talent of recruiting and I think that is super, super valuable. Is Understanding the type of people you need and the talent you need to bring on to scale a company. Everyone has a controversial perspective on business today. What's yours? You don't need a VC to start your idea. When people say they're like I need to go run out and raise money and like why? Go test your products, come back. That's great. That's great. What has been the most besides this amazing time that you've had with me today, what has been the most valuable part or experience of the revenue collective community for you so far? I I absolutely I just love the entire community, but I really love that I've now become the moderator for the women of our see and I've been creating some happy hours for the ladies of our stay to be able to just openly communicate. I think that's something that for women we just don't really prioritizes networking with each other. So I'm really excited to kind of take that initiative and create these experiences. We just had one last week and it was great. It's so amazing. That's great. If you're if you're a woman in the in the revenue collective, reach out to Helen if you're not a part of that yet, and get involved. Lastly, what is your guiding principle in life? What is what is your life's motto? I would say people love people that love themselves, and I'm a big, big proponent of that. What you put out in the world is what you're going to get, and you know, if you can't love who you are, people aren't going to really believe your story. Love It, love it,...

Helen, it is it has been a wonderful time having you on the show. Tell everyone how they can get in contact with you. Yeah, I mean they can find me on slack, Helen Rankin, and why see where? They can email me at Helen at swave UPCOM. Great, Helen, it has been wonderful having you on the show. Really appreciate your time and best of luck with swag up as you continue to bootstrap to hopefully, nine figures. Yeah, we're on our way all right now. Thanks so much. Take Care of you. By.

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