Digital Marketing – Things that don’t scale

In this 20 minute video, we talk to Nathalie Rafeh, who is the founder and CEO of Splash Up, which is an e-commerce software company that, creates shopping experiences that shoppers won’t forget. Also, Genson Glier, who is a growth hacker extraordinaire, absolute wizard. And Brendan Hill, who’s another content creation wizard about when and how to scale your digital marketing.

Here’s the transcript from our conversation :

Automated voice (00:00):

Digital Ninjas and DLake creates presents….

Daren Lake (00:05):

Question, what does the Airbnb CEO, WIRED Magazine founder, and all content creators have in common? They do things that don’t scale when they start off. Why? Because you need to optimise for one person, one thing. Once you get that working, you can then look to scale up your efforts for five, 10, 100, even 1000X. But you can’t do that until you get one thing and one person right. Find out why doing things that don’t scale can help your business and more on this episode of this video podcast series.


Hey, I’m Daren Lake and welcome to this podcast series, collaboration between Digital Ninjas, DLake Creative, and Pod Paste. We’re on a mission to supercharge your brand, company or organisation, and help you change the world through digital strategy, training and insights. Each episode we answer questions and talk about one specific idea to help you market and run your business better. And we do that by making them easy to digest, short, and concise, because we’ve all got a business to run.

Automated voice (01:06):

Let’s take a walk.

Daren Lake (01:07):

Today we’re going to be talking about things that don’t scale, and it’s actually a panel discussion that I ended up being a part of that was really awesome. I was joined by Nathalie Rafeh, who is the founder and CEO of Splash Up, which is an e-commerce software company that, creates shopping experiences that shoppers won’t forget. Also, Genson Glier, who is a growth hacker extraordinaire, absolute wizard. And Brendan Hill, who’s another content creation wizard, and he also is a venture capitalist investor. And then obviously myself, I was a part of it, Daren Lake, DLake Creates, and I do a running fitness brand that also has an agency and does production work for clients.


So what will you learn in this episode? You’ll learn about things that do not scale. You’ll also learn about the thousand true fans and how important that actually is. Why you shouldn’t scale just for scale’s sake. The tools to use so that you can scale well and efficiently. How being lazy and putting stuff out is better than not doing anything at all and waiting to be a perfectionist, and so much more. Let’s get into it.

Brendan Hill (02:34):

A thing that I picked up on is that you need to do things that don’t scale. Paul Graham, the Y Combinator founder, has a great essay that we’ll put in the show notes that’s called, Do Things That Don’t Scale When You’re First Starting Out Your Business. So for founders and small business owners that are listening today, I mean Genson, you talked about getting your hands dirty on TikTok, finding these micro influencers. Nathalie, you’re going to retailers, these big retailers, finding out their exact needs, what kind of engagement they need. Daren, you’re recording the podcast. Can you tell me about the moment when you sort of realised that it’s so important to do things that don’t scale in the early days, don’t scale things up too fast, and what learnings you’ve had around that?

Genson Glier (03:21):

In regards to sort of doing things that don’t scale, especially around the early stage, it’s absolutely paramount I definitely think, because you need to really connect with your user base or your potential user base. You need to get that sort of product validation. And without that early communication, you’re not going to understand whether or not they’re actually going to use, purchase or engage with any part of your products, your brand or whatnot. So doing those, what most individuals, seems like grunt work, is imperative, because it really gives you sort of that finger on the pulse understanding of what they want.


When you get to levels where you can scale, that you understand your operations of your own system, the next stages of platforms are transitioning into automation of say just general copy blogs, et cetera, platforms that utilise NLP such as GPT-3, such as CopyAI or Copysmith. That’s kind of the next level. And then you also have going onto the next stage of image generation by artificial intelligence, such as DALL-E 2 and Imagen. DALL-E 2 is GPT-3 and Imagen is Google. That’ll be kind of the stage two. And then the final stage will most likely be video generated by artificial intelligence where you can essentially just write up your brief, populate whatever the hell you want.


Now that’s really great, but it depends on the use case, of course. You’ve got to be like, okay, will my audience resonate with this? In the cases where you need that sort of personalization, that scalability, you got to think like, all right, well if I’m a personal product, am I the linchpin or am I the bottleneck? And how do I alleviate that? But also the questions you have to ask is, where can I scale, and what do I actually realistically need to scale?


It’s too easy to get stuck into this mindset of scaling for scaling’s sake. Whereas people come to you for the connection, for the brand, for the value that you add, depending on what product you’re selling, you know what I mean? So it’s kind of a mixed bag. It’s understanding where you’re at in the life cycle of your company, of your brand, or whatever product or service that you’re doing and what your most effective action really. So what’s going to be the most effective, get the biggest bang for your buck and just take your time on considering that. If you’re in early stage, it’s getting in front of your customers, it’s having that initial conversation or it’s providing value to them that allow them or persuade them to actually connect with you, follow you, use your services.


If you’re at say, maybe a series A or a series B, you come from a generalist approach to more of a specialist approach within your company, you need to go, okay, what can we realistically scale? Is content generation for content’s sake something that we want to do? Sure, happy days. Look at those sort of new stages of artificial intelligence where you’re automatically generating images and copy or video. But it’s about that, these days, people prefer authenticity. So you’re better off doing bang for your buck and quality over quantity.

Nathalie Rafeh (06:50):

So I love this point. So I think that it’s important to have, it’s very cliche, but a bit of balance. Marketing automation or automation shouldn’t really be the crutch that you sort of rely on. It should support your activity, because everyone’s using them. CopyAI, it would help you, let’s say if you are maybe selling some dresses, it would help you create some content around that. But unless you sort of use that as a skeleton that you can then beautify with your own voice, you’re just going to sound like any other brand out there. So it’s really important for marketers or any SMEs, you’re probably a one man person. Sure, you can go to agencies, but you can’t really go and outsource everything. You might do SEO, SEM if you’re got the budget, but everything falls on your shoulders. And so it’s important to find that sweet spot around what I can automate, but maintain that voice.


So it’s really interesting that you say that at an early stage, getting your hands dirty, you have to go and talk to people yourself. Because in my experience, for example, some of the things that we found, what I thought was resonating, what made sense during our problem validation when we uncovered their pain points, didn’t resonate from our value prop. When we promoted it, we found that retailers were actually resonating more with things around analytics and insight. And so then I had to repurpose that to what they were resonating with. But it took a lot of back and forth and manual process for me to get to this point. And so it’s really in the early stage around experimenting with different words, with different content, and different techniques. And because we’re B2B, some SMEs might be marketing to businesses, so you can’t really use TikTok really easily. You might need to go a different route, but everything stands still. You can’t really just rely on automation for the sake of automation.

Genson Glier (08:46):

Also, with understanding your users, the key is you got to look at multiple contact points. So what are they saying about you on social media? You can’t always get quality information from feedback forms. So it’s like how do you actually get those insights from users? Are you doing a live session and you’re getting feedback there? Are you looking at the comments of your competitors? Maybe the challenges that they’re facing that they’re not addressing, that’s an easy sort of pain point you can address. Any comments in your own social, general messages. If you have a community even better, because then you can ask them directly. So getting that initial feedback is absolutely paramount. And how you do it doesn’t necessarily matter as long as you can validate it and then base your hypothesis off there.

Daren Lake (09:37):

Yeah, I agree with both of you on that. And I’d say even on how you do it, I love production, I like things that are high quality and I’ll probably spend too much time on certain things and I’ll just see people not try at all. They don’t have any sort of marketing strategy and they still, quote unquote, win. Or whatever, it’s not really a competition, but I see them get success and I’m like, they’re not even trying, they’re not organized and it’s just a hot mess. And there’s some people I personally know, and I know they’re inner workings, I’m like, oh, how do you, and they’re like, I just wake up and I just post. And I’m like, gross, I cannot do that. It’s stressful. Yeah, it’s a lot.

Nathalie Rafeh (10:16):

If you were to find a marketing automation platform to find it, okay, it’s not that difficult. But then to onboard yourself and then figure out the rules, figure out the processes, figure out how it works for you, there’s a bit of a learning curve, time investment. And then there are gaps with every single tool that you use, because they may not do what you really want them to do to full extent. So you find yourself sort of hacking things and spending time doing things. So you’re like, I’m just going to post it. I’m just going to bypass all of this. So it’s sort of the investment of laying the groundwork first, that is a bit challenging. And so they may not know how, and they may not have the time, and it’s effortful, and they’ve got lots of other stuff to do.

Genson Glier (10:56):

What’s also interesting about that is we are essentially playing every social media platform’s game. And for them it’s about volume of content, not necessarily quality. And that’s why low quality content survives. Because for them it’s just, all right, how can we get this in front of as many eyes as possible? And it doesn’t have to be great to get in front of as many eyes as possible. You look at TikTok, you look at Snapchat, everything’s going to speech to text over random videos. Doesn’t really cost much. You can do it on your iPhone. It’s pretty straightforward. But to really connect with your user for the long term, it’s about producing value. Now, that value can be polished or unpolished, as long as you’re dividing value to the user, you will retain it. Because the goal is to get 1000 true fans or your first 100,000, 500,000, million, whatever. But you only do that by providing that connection and that value of your service, of your brand.

Nathalie Rafeh (12:02):

I think, definitely, I agree with that. I think we were going back full circle. Before we had this trend around get eyeballs and subscription as a term, but memberships were fading out. And now what we’re seeing is that membership’s coming back, loyalty’s coming back. And you might get some eyeballs initially, but how do you sustain that? Because everyone’s paying for eyeballs. Everyone’s sort of scrolling on their feet, they’re forgetting about you in two seconds, they can’t recall your brand. They might think your content is cool, but how do you maintain that advantage? And ultimately it has to come to authenticity and building that voice. But then it’s easy to say that, because everyone talks about authenticity, but what is authenticity in the first place. And I think initially it starts by being true to yourself and also being really close to your audience in terms of how they think, what values do they have and embody that and find your early birds that essentially resonate with that value so they can help you. I’m pretty sure Genson, you’ve got heaps of stuff to talk about that.

Genson Glier (12:59):

I’d definitely say your number one question is, how can I be the solution for my users? That’s going to determine the value. You know what I mean? How can I solve their problems and do it as efficiently and effectively as possible? Your story, your narrative, that’ll depend on what product or service you’re doing. If it’s a personal brand, it’s like how many people will resonate with my story? If it’s just a solution to a SAS software, it’s like, all right, well how many people can I fix this pain for? And that’s going to be where your value lies.

Daren Lake (13:33):

So I sometimes take the contrarian route of things, and I personally don’t like short form content. So I know social media is a tool, Instagram, TikTok, et cetera, but I don’t think it actually is where my strength is. I think about things in a deep way. I try to be introspective and that is coming out in my brand. And I’m starting to attract those people, like one in every 100, one in every 1000.


Whereas I have a guy that I’m teamed up with and his brand is very different where he’s going for a bigger net and he actually has very beginner type information. How to run a fast 5k. How to run your first marathon, et cetera. And I stayed really far away from that type of content early on, because I was like, it’s saturated. Everyone’s doing it. I don’t need to touch that. Everyone could just Google. I’ve Googled it. What’s the point? And then these are kind of two things I’m talking about. We teamed up working on a podcast together. We also do a bit of content. He’s got a quarter million followers. I’ve got very few compared to that. But his quality of followers is actually-

Nathalie Rafeh (14:44):


Daren Lake (14:44):

Yeah. And I wouldn’t say bad, but…

Genson Glier (14:48):

Less engagement.

Daren Lake (14:50):

Yeah. There’ll be some posts and it will get a whole lot of views, a whole lot of likes, but a couple comments. Where I’ll have posts where there’ll be a lot of comments and people going in, they know me personally. And it’s like we’re not in a race. His actual goal is very different from mine. He’s 60 years old and runs faster than me, by the way, which is amazing. And his goal is to just have 10 clients and he charges a lot. He’s a coach. I’m not a coach. He’s a running triathlon coach. And his goal is to get 10 clients to pay a lot per month. And he’s like, this is perfectly fine. He ran a bunch of businesses, he had a distribution business, he was like, this is fine for me. I really love coaching. So Instagram is a really big top of the funnel for him.


And then he gets, what is it, high achievers, high earners. So people that can afford it, they go through and he doesn’t care about the bottom feeders. He’s also educating people. He has free plans that he gives away, but people like here and there. So we try to actually go deep on his story and we realise people don’t care about his story. People just want to know how to run faster. But then I flip it, my how-to stuff does well, but when I go deep on my story, people are really engaged and they’re like, oh, what about this Daren? Oh, all the best. And I get all those messages. So I’m not saying it’s not a competition between me and him, but the numbers really, they kind of lie depending on your objectives.


And I’m realising I want to get more people off the platforms. It’s the whole point of this to my podcast and my newsletter. Because that’s where I can do more of the long form stuff. And I’m going to move over to YouTube. I’m trying to first conquer Instagram and then move over to every platform. Doing everything at once is death. Most people know that. But you know, brand-new marketer or brand-new business person, don’t try to conquer every platform at once. You will spin out and run out of energy and run out of motivation. Please just do one every three, six months, however long. I’ve been on Instagram for a year and a half and now I’m going to slowly go over to TikTok, finally. And it’s like, how’d it take you so long? I’m like, well, there was no rush and I wanted to figure Instagram out.

Nathalie Rafeh (16:46):

It’s a marathon not a race.

Daren Lake (16:47):

Exactly. Pun intended, maybe no pun intended. So I’ll wrap it all up. But the whole point is I want those people that want the deeper stuff to come over to the deeper stuff, because I know then I can do more with them. Whether that’s to monetize them or just create a deeper connection, create more community, et cetera. Instagram, the algorithm, people come on Instagram, they come off Instagram. I know a lot of people that are like, oh man, sorry, I’ve been off Instagram for three months. What’s been going on Daren? And I’m like, oh, so you just haven’t seen any of my stuff. Like that happens. And if they got my emails, they’d be more inclined to maybe click on the email. So I’m going to end it there.

Genson Glier (17:22):

I think with that, there’s a couple of things there. So there’s your expectations and your goals. So what’s your goal for your audience and what are your expectations? If your goal for your audience is to create that strong connection, maybe perhaps you have to lower your growth expectations. You will grow slower, but you’ll stay more consistent. You’ll have higher engagement rates. You also have to look at your conversion percentage. Maybe if you’re growing slower, you’ll get a higher conversion percentage. You might sit at 30, 40%, gold. But if you go on for speed, volume, broader audience, you might have a lower conversion rate of two to 7%. So you’ve really got to look at those analytics.


And also what’s your end goal? Do you want to build that connection? Do you want to ensure that you’re a thought leader within that specific niche? Because you have to remember, there’s almost 8 billion people, 8 billion or more. Guaranteed there’s going to be at least a couple thousand interested in exactly whatever specific niche that you are presenting. And whether it’s from helping families better communicate, whether it’s helping improve conversions in e-commerce or building your own brand and discussing the nuances of long distance training. So it comes down to what are your expectations and what are the pressures you put on yourself and your business?

Daren Lake (18:52):

All right, thank you so much for listening. Really appreciate it. You know the drill. Make sure that you like, follow, subscribe, depending on whatever app you’re on. Whether you’re listening to this as a podcast or you’re watching it on YouTube, LinkedIn, wherever you get this, it really helps us get the word out. And if you’re feeling this and you’ve gotten some value, please make sure you share this with someone that you know and we’ll see you in the next episode.