RubyApps Insights: Run Your Marketing Organization Like a Startup

RubyApps Insights interviews Jaron Rubenstein, Creator of RubyApps and Founder and President of RubensteinTech, on the topic of how established marketing organizations can learn from, and behave, like startups.

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Episode Transcription

Alexander Kotler: (Music playing) Is your organization mature, established, old, is it bureaucratic, hierarchical. Does it have a way of doing things, the so called proven process.

Is that was of doing things slow? Does that proven process deliver results? In today's episode, we discuss how to run your marketing organization like a starter, even if it's mature, established, old, bureaucratic, and hierarchical.

Our guest today is Jaron Rubenstein, creator of Ruby Apps, a content marketing and collaboration platform and founder and president of Rubenstein Tech and Enterprise Software Firm. Jaron, welcome back to Ruby Apps Insights.

Jaron Rubenstein: Thank you Alex, thrilled to be here.

Alexander Kotler: All right. You recently wrote about how marketing organizations can run like startups. What was the inspiration for this thought piece?

Jaron Rubenstein: You know, I have been in the technology space for a very long time, it's astounding to hear myself say it but, but decades at this point and those involved in technology and those observe technology see how quickly it evolves and the pace of evolution, the pace of innovation in the tech space surprisingly keeps increasing.

I, I, I, I visualize it as sort of a hockey stick graph where the, the pace of innovation and technology, and, and, particularly marketing technology is just skyrocketing, and what I see is that, our clients, our partners, people I know in various sectors are struggling to keep up. They just can't keep up with that pace and, both-

Alexander Kotler: They're not speed skaters, if you will, working on the hockey analogy.

Jaron Rubenstein: (laughs) There you go, there you go. There's more, it's more figure skating. (laughing) it's more art than, than speed, yeah, and I think that they, they're looking for ways to adopt these technologies, to use them, to leverage them, to do something (laughs) productive with them, and keeping up is a challenge, and so in thinking about that, and thinking about how we've maintained our edge over the past nearly 17 years we've been in business here at Rubenstein Tech, and Ruby Apps, I, I, I, thought a lot about the techniques that we've been able to leverag and the, you know, the learnings that we've had from others in the tech sector, really.

That keep us, that are a- that enable us to stay up to date and on the edge, you know for us we even have to be one or two steps ahead of, of our clients at least and, you know, certainly much more on the edge of technology 'cause we're working on things today that, you know, our clients are gonna want in six months or twelve months, or even eighteen months from now.

Alexander Kotler: So one of the interesting things about the piece is that it seems like, or at least you frame it for there to be two parallel paths of startups and then mature organizations, and one of the implicit themes that I see running up again, and again is around this notion of perception, or misperception with the idea that startups and mature companies ae inherently dissimilar.

Jaron Rubenstein: You know there's, there's a lot of similarities between the two organizations and as I've learned more and more about many different sizes and types of organizations through working with them over the years, I've seen that there are, there are definitely common threads, they're just, they're observed, or discussed, or talked about differently. So, you know, startups tend to have, you know, when you think about startup, you're thinking about a small organization as small as possible that has funding or, or, whether they're self funded or they have outside funding, they have severe constraints around capital, around resources, you know, it's rare that one person has one job, (laughs) generally people are wearing multiple hats.

Large organizations, they do tend to be able to have more specialists where someone is focused on one thing, so I think team size is a big part of it, and I think that the number of people that you have to interact and communicate and get buy in from is different at a- a- a- a- a- at a startup organization than it is at a large organization, so there's lots of different dynamics between them, but there's also a lot of common threads.

And what we've seen work really well is when even the larger organizations create smaller teams and let them operate with a more agile mindset.

Alexander Kotler: The idea of these dynamics, and I wanna dip into them and actually extract them a little bit cause you mentioned some of them. You talked about things like resource constraints, aggressive deadlines, well you didn't mention that, but I know that that's in the article, multitasking, and then things like pressure.

These are inherent in startups, but the irony is that you'll find them as well in mature organizations and that is one of the ways in which they're actually similar.

Jaron Rubenstein: Exactly, exactly, and, and I don't know that, that the language is the same, that, you know, when a large organization might talk about, you know, we have a budget and we need to hit our budget this year  (laughing) but a startup is thinking, you know, we have a runway of six months and if we do not succeed, or if we do not hit our marks during the six months, there will be no company in month seven (laughs) and so there's different level of pressure perhaps, but there's that same, that same sort of constraint.

I think in a large organization the fear might be if, if we exceed our budget, or don't show the results we need to, you know, we might be out of a job or we might lose funding for future initiatives next years. So there's, there's similar concerns, they're just ta- th- th- th- th- they're discussed differently.

Alexander Kotler: All right, so you mention that a few times I think one of the other things that might be worth raising to the four is not just the language in which they're referred to by, but the notion of cultural dissimilarity or the associations that people have culturally, what it means to be a startup versus what it means to be a fortune 500 professional services firm.

Jaron Rubenstein: I think that you see in, in, a fortune 500 and larger, in a large organization, it certainly doesn't have to be that large (laughs) but in, in a lager organization, you know, anything when you start talking about hundreds of, of e-, of employees and on up, I think that you see that there are leaders or innovators that emerge in that environment and don't take the status quo for, you know, ar- aren't complacent, they're not, they're not satisfied with this is the way we've always done it, they're not satisfied with, this is the way it's done here.

And instead they either, either through their own drive and ambition or by looking at other, other organizations that are able to accomplish more, they bring these ideas into that culture, and I think that's where there's a lot of value that comes out of that is when you think about things from ano- from that outside perspective, or, or with another perspective, and in those organizations, those people that are, you know, sometimes they're referred to as the movers and shakers, they're , they are also the ones that rise to the top, and people are you know, some people are sometimes surprised, like wow, that person started here, and you know, a few years ago and now they're here in the organization.

And, and quite frankly that's usually why it happens is 'cause they're willing to take the risk, right? The calculated risk, we can t- maybe talk a little bit more about that later in our conversation, but take a little bit of a risk but also culturally look at, you know, what are the, what are the elements of our culture that are most important that make us who we are as an organization, and, and what are, and, and how can I leverage those to move faster (laughs) to accomplish more, or to, to, to break that, th- the parts of the culture that are slowing us down, and that our, you know, that, that are impediments to our success short term and long term.

Alexander Kotler: One of the words that you used in there was faster, and it seems to me that part of this philosophy that you bring and this thought piece is that speed is critical to progress.

Jaron Rubenstein: It, it absolutely is and in technology and, and marketing technology what we see time and time again is that the, the time to, the time from an idea to launch is so lengthy in many larger organizations that by the time the thing has launched, they've lost the power behind it.They've lost so much of the possible results that would come out of it, and then what happens is folks look at it and say, you know, oh we, we launched a podcast but you know, no-one's really listening to it.

And why is that? Oh, you know, it wasn't, it was, it was a waste of effort, lets not fund something like that next time. When in reality, the issue is that marketing has this adoption curve, and, and from the consumer, from the consumers of your marketing content, there's a peak, there's an excitement, there's something that is, there's a buzz, and you need to capture that, in, in in a week, in a month. And when it take six months or (laughs) nine months, and then you've lost som- launched something, not only have you lost that excitement at the beginning but you've, you've lost a period where you might have got the greatest returns on that marketing investment.

Alexander Kotler: So that's right, listeners at home, we've bottled this podcast up, you need to be excited about it always and continue consuming it so that this effort is not a failure in and of itself.

Jaron Rubenstein: (laughs)

Alexander Kotler: (laughs) So let's get to some of the recommendations because that's really at the heart of this piece and you gave five of them that anyone can consider adopting and the first one is around a framework with testing and iteration at its core. What's this all about?

Jaron Rubenstein: What we've found is that, you know, more mature teams do, do well with processes and with more defined processes and so we, we've developed here on our team a way of thinking about this that we called the Idea framework and Idea is really a, a way to identify, define, execute, and then assess an initiative, a really an initiative, but we're, we're focused again on the market and marketing tech side of things.

And, it's not, the, the, the concept it isn't, isn't ingenious (laughs) it's in fact if you look at it it's probably relatively obvious, but what we've found is that just, just thinking about those four steps when you're executing a, when you're implementing a project, when you're, when you're developing a project, whatever it is, whether it's something that's like just marketing communications, or it's something like a new podcast for your, you know, for your, for your team or for your firm. And thinking about those four steps and then most importantly iterating through them over time is where the, the greatest successes come from and in technology you see it all the time where, you know, version one, was, was enough in startups sometimes they call it the MVP; the minimum viable product.

It's, it's enough to get some customers, to get some buy ins, to get some excitement around what you're doing,, but it's not the end all, be all, and then there's, there's iteration and you access what worked, what didn't and focus in on the things that worked and that you think will work next time and you experiment, you do it again and, you implement version two, you implement version three, you implement version four.

A great well known example of this might be something like IOS. You know that, the, which originally wasn't even called IOS, that's a new name, but the operating system behind Apple's I-phone, and I-pad, you know, some of you remember version 1.0 which was very minimal. It had, it came with a few apps. Some of you may remember I-phones before an app store (laughs) It didn't come with much, it ca- relative to today. Over time it iterated it, it evolved years after year, every six months there's a cadence to it and it kept getting improved and improved and improved to the point where, you know, few people can, can live without their smart phone device.

And, so I think that the iteration is the most critical part of it all and that's where you can hone in on what's working, ignore what's not too many organizations, too many seems teams tried to knock the ball out of the park at their first at bat; they, you know, they'd get up to bat and they'd get up to bat and they'd think they're gonna knock it out and that's it. They'd put all their eggs in that basket and if they don't get that home run, then they've got, they've got no eggs left (laughs) I'm mixing metaphors.

I'm mixing metaphors-

Alexander Kotler: I'm trying to work with the baseballs and the basket and the Easter bunny but no, that's just fine, you're right. So the point there of course ism get something out there. The MVP and then continue to evolve it with a cadence over time, and as fast as possible and reverting back to the Idea framework, the faster and quicker the iteration loops, the more you're cycling, the more you're actually progressing your product forward.

So, the second one that I think I wanna touch on is trying an Agile approach for one project. Agile is a new concept for some perhaps so let's quickly say what is Agile and how would someone apply that to an isolated project.

Jaron Rubenstein: Agile started with Agile Manifesto which was a, a software development, I, I guess I'll call a paradigm, or way of thinking. It came out of years of things around Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma, and things like that. It was certainly born in those ideas, but it was, their, really the idea that historically softwares develop with a waterfall mode which was very much like that the, like what I was discussing earlier where you, you need to, you know, you build everything and then you launch it, and however long it takes you to build everything you're trying to build the perfect product at they end of the process.

And, Agile is, is an iterative approach, it's an iterative framework to developing that product. There's different implementations, there's an aspect of it called Scrum, where it, Scrum is not Agile and Agile is not Scrum, so some software folks will argue about that, but it's a process for iteration and it's a process for doing things. Scrum is the idea that you might have a two or a three week sprint, you break your project up into smaller chunks, into sprints. At each sprint, at each iteration. You develop what you what, what, what's most important at that time to the product and to the end result, and you complete those steps, and then you I- Ideally release that and gain feedback on it and in your next iteration, which is just two or three weeks later, you are gonna focus on what's most important at that time to the product and the learnings you got from previous releases to continue to propel the product, or the service forward and really optimize on what's working versus what's not.

Alexander Kotler: The third one, and I'll move through the rest of these pretty quickly, is finding ways to test and fail, and fast.

Jaron Rubenstein: Yeah, I, I think that failure is something that's gotten its share of press over the past few years.Very much so in the tech world, and the startup world. I, I know it's leaked into other sectors as well, and i- i- it, it's interesting, the, the cost of doing these, these projects whatever they're, whatever we're talking about is, you know, there's resources, there's time, there's money, and of course you're looking for results at the end of the day, and what we've seen is that when you can break these larger projects into smaller pieces and test what your, test your assumptions, test your hypothesis.

You know, I, I believe that if we put a form here, here on the, on the website, we're going to get you know, business leads, the, who will enter their information and, and submit it. And that's a, that's a hypothesis, that's a theory and then we need to test it, so lets do it. Lets put it up on a page and let's see what happens and then when that, when that does occur, we need to look at well what, what kinds of information did we collect.

What was the value of that information, should we add additional fields to that form, should we remove fields from that form, should we move it to a different place, should we get rid of it altogether looking for a- accessing and then saying you know what, this, this failed, this was a bad idea. Let's drop the form altogether and let's look at another way to capture potential marketing or business development leads.

Have- ha- being willing to, to test an experiment and then fail and fail fast and, and move on to the next thing to test is really I think a magical idea for, for a lot of, a lot of folks with marketing.

Alexander Kotler: So, the fourth one, I think ties into this as well, which is requesting a small research and development budget to experiment, and hence you can apply that budget, that money, to these failures.

Jaron Rubenstein: Right, and that's a, that's an idea that you know, we thought a little bit about. Well, how can an organization that's not open to failing on anything (laughs) get the ability to fail. How can a marketing team at an organization that expects them to deliver, deliver, deliver and you know, and you know, deliver results in every dollar spent on marketing.

How can they get the opportunity to do some of these experiments, to do some of these iterations, and learn? Because, that's where learning, that's where growth happens for a team, for an organization, for, for and initiative, and so we, we believe that one way that marketing teams should be able to do that is to think about it as sort of a research and development; an R&T budget. To ask for, you know, some, some of, some line item in their marketing, you know, whether they define it, or they, you know, have a specific project in mind to start, whatever it is.

But having some figure that is some meaningful amount that they can use for experimentation, for iteration, for failing, for learning, without the demand that it re- have it return, without the expectation that it be successful and I, and I, and I believe that doing that will lead to some really valuable insights into what might work, and what might not for an organization and having that freedom to experiment is something that I think, I think marketers need.

I think the creative side of marketing needs that ability.

Alexander Kotler: So the fifth one, and let's just say and going back to the hockey reference that the first four you mentioned send you to the penalty box, and you can't get them done.

So, the fifth one is around considering newer options for communication.

Jaron Rubenstein: Yeah, I think that the technology world has always been you know (laughs) for, for the ba- for bad reputation that engineers have around their ability to communicate effectively (laughs) I think that technology has very much been on the edge of communicating faster, more frequently, more often.

You know, we went from we went from emails to chat to text messages, back to chat. For some folks it's a bit too much, (laughs) and that's another conversation but we believe that, you know, a lot of our, a lot of teams need multiple modes of communication and historically larger organizations have, have had one and that's been email.

Email is great but it, it can be a little too slow for some scenarios and so more and more organizations we know have been moving to some sort of a real time chat, whether it be Slack, or Jabber, or Rock.Chat or there's so many of these out there, but there's opportunity to change the way your teams and as a result, perhaps make better decisions faster as a group.

There's also opportunities to look at things like stand up meetings, which is a, which is a Scrum concept where on a perhaps daily basis you have a period, maybe it's five minutes, maybe it's fifteen minutes where everyone on the team, or everyone on a project connects for a quick update there's, there's different formats for a stand up, but quite frequently the format is that you start with what you worked on yesterday.

You talk about what you're planning to work on today, and you identify anything that might be blocking, might be an issue that either someone else on the team can help with, or someone else on the team just needs to be aware of. And having that sort of touch point on a daily basis; that quick five, ten, fifteen minute sort of connection is one way that startups and, and, and, and smart software development teams are able to keep their pace high while keeping the others on their team informed of what's happening.

Alexander Kotler: With using an older and slower option for communication; that being verbal communication. I thank you Jaron Rubenstein for joining the Ruby Apps Insights Podcast for today's discussion.

Jaron Rubenstein: Thank you for having me Alex. Always a pleasure to be here in Studio 55.

Alexander Kotler: (Music) Ruby Apps Insights is recorded at Studio 55 and is hostedby Alexander Kotler.

For more insights and detail on Ruby Apps and Enterprise Software Developed by RubensteinTech visit Until next time, have an awesome every day.