Startups Strategy

Artificial Intelligence – the Hottest Topic of 2017

ai20172017 has just started and already there’s a lot of voices in the market placing Artificial Intelligence at the top of predictions and reports from Forrester Research, Gartner, Tractica and venture capitalists alike.

In one GeekWire piece, three of the five venture capitalists quoted about 2017 trends mentioned AI on their list. That’s remarkable for an industry that has not yet reached maturity but has demonstrated it is ready for widespread adoption. 2017 is likely to be the year we see significant uptake in practical applications for artificial intelligence.

We are after all in a perfect storm of data, computing power and algorithms that fuel these applications both at startup and at corporate level. And I’m not talking about the all knowing AI, but something way more practical:

The promise of artificial intelligence is ubiquitous and often portrayed in Hollywood as a calculating robo-nemesis, disguised as a friend or personal assistant (just see Her, exMachina, and Westworld). Yet, there are few areas better suited for an AI-powered transformation than enterprise & business functions.

Mikhail Naumov, President & CSO at DigitalGenius – Human+AI Customer Service

As a bonus, Udemy is offering their AI/ML course at a 95% discount, an easy way to get in on the machine learning growth wave.

Digital Events Startups

Save the Date – Top 5 2017 Growth Conferences

We’re running out of 2016 and if you haven’t done it yet, it’s a good time to put some dates in the calendar for your personal development. Being a great growth manager means you have to be on top of your game with both marketing, business development, management and operations. And that’s beyond your company’s industry.


Every year, things evolve very fast, so even if you keep up with the news, you need to get a boost by going to at least 5 events. This will not only give you an edge when it comes to info and case studies, but it is also a great way to network with peers and develop professional relationships with likeminded individuals.

Startup Grind – Global Conference

WHEN – February 21-22
WHERE – Silicon Valley – Fox Theater | Redwood City

“These are our people” – Sam Altman, Y Combinator, plus with 3,000 founders and investors, more than 40 keynote and fireside sessions, and over 50 exhibiting startups, this is Startup Grind’s largest event ever.


WHEN – May 8-10
WHERE – New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Join like-minded entrepreneurs, business leaders, bestselling authors and headliners straight out of the pages of Inc., for three days of ideas, inspiration and insights, networking and learning, and proven strategies to help your company grow and thrive.

Traction Conference

WHEN – May 31 – June 1
WHERE – Vancouver, Canada

Traction brings founders and growth experts from tech unicorns including LinkedIn, Dropbox, Pinterest, Zillow, Hootsuite, Marketo, Groupon, HubSpot, AngelList and more to teach startups distribution strategies and tactics to get, keep and grow customers and revenue at scale.


WHEN – September 5-8
WHERE – Cleveland, Ohio USA, Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland

Over 80 sessions and workshops presented by the leading brand marketers from around the world covering strategy, integration, measurement

TechCrunch Disrupt 2017

WHEN – September
WHERE – San Francisco, California

It is the world’s leading authority in debuting revolutionary startups, introducing game-changing technologies and discussing what’s top of mind for the tech industry’s key innovators.

As 2017 kicks in and more conferences are announced, I’ll update this list with dates and places, so keep an eye out for this post.

What’s your shortlist for 2017?

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Startups Strategy

3 MUST Focus Areas for Growth Managers

There is an increasing amount of noise out there about what a growth hacker or a growth manager (please don’t confuse these two!) should do to drive 10x growth in organizations. I’ve seen a lot of tactical suggestions, examples and strategies, ranging from PPC, A/B testing, to branding and sales organization setup, but very few talk about the WHYs, the reasons behind all the tests and the activities, the larger picture, the strategic intent. Sure, you can argue that it could be all for growth.


Growth for growth’s sake is not sustainable and is a bigger danger to a company than not having growth in the first place!

Here’s my take on it. Every Growth Manager who is building a sustainable oranization must focus on the following 3 elements:

  1. Product Marketing
  2. Business Development
  3. Investors & Other Key Stakeholders

1. Product Marketing

The Growth Manager needs to understand the customer and be able to work with the product & sales teams to develop benefit statements and compelling stories.

They own the message, the brand and the marketing strategies, channels and budgets and are responsible for lead generation, PR, thought leadership, influencer relationships and all other brand building activities. They own the paid, earned , owned media mix and drive brand awareness both industry-wide and to customer segments.

Here’s a very good definition given by Openview Partners:

Product Marketing also focuses on understanding the market and market needs, but with an emphasis on understanding the buyer of the company’s products and services. Product Marketing is responsible for developing positioning, messaging, competitive differentiation, and enabling the Sales and Marketing teams to ensure they are aligned and work efficiently to generate and close opportunities.

Deliverables: Product Marketing Strategy, Marketing Assets (website, branding, PR, messaging), Marketing Campaigns

2. Business Development

If a Growth Manager focuses on just the first point, then they are effectively a Product Marketing Manager. However, given the moment a growth manager joins the organization, they are required to step up and step in the business development process, as well as the marketing process.

That way, they learn two important things – first hand customer feedback on product marketing messages and materials that sales teams need in order to be successful. The feedback is very useful in refining and iterating on product benefits, narrative, angle, story, case studies, customer success showcases.

The materials needs assessment feeds into creation of product sheets, pitch decks, videos, websites, communication campaigns, email marketing, automation flows, lead nurture campaigns – any activity that the sales team needs “air support” for in the process of moving leads down the funnel to opportunities and active customers.

Deliverables: Business Development Strategy, Sales Funnel, Sales Pipeline Management, Sales & Marketing Collateral (white papers, product sheets, videos, presentations, nurture campaigns)

3. Investors & Other Key Stakeholders

To ensure healthy and sustainable growth, the last piece of the Growth Manager puzzle is resource & stakeholder management. They must always think two steps ahead of the game, making sure the team is ready to raise the next round, ready to bring in the right people to expand the team and ready to present itself in front of customers.

Growth Managers need to figure out how the company should look like, what it needs to become, in order to grow into that picture piece by piece. It can be the way the branding is portrayed, the way the website is designed and structured, the way you handle recruitment & employer branding and how all of these are externally perceived by stakeholders other than customers – i.e. investors, partners, future employees, peers.

Deliverables: Marketing Collateral, Investor Relations Collateral (decks, website, marketing and sales assets), Employer Branding Strategy & Collateral

If you are a Growth Manager today or planning to become one, you must keep your actions focused on all three of the elements to ensure consistent, sustainable results delivery. Hey, one day you could be the CEO of the company.

Digital Tips Startups Strategy

When do you need a Growth Manager?

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I won’t quote the Harvard Business Review article that decisively said that every company needs a growth manager because I think that’s a wrong approach. Only businesses that have a strategic goal to grow need a growth manager, all others need a manager that can maintain the status quo, the market share, the profit margin, the shareholder returns a.s.o. The latter companies will suffer from having a Growth Manager as will the Growth Manager suffer from being in such companies, because growth does not come without pains or changes.

If you don’t leave room for some pain in order to grow towards the reward, you will never get to the reward.

Another article I’d like to mention here is the Intercom piece about the bullshit that is growth hacking and how bad it is for an organization to turn it into a strategy. Sure, it’s scrappy, lean, works for a while, but the price you pay in the long run is a lack of foundation for the growth you hacked your way into. That foundation is done with investment in tools, strategies, deliverables, templates, methods, people, offices that don’t deliver right away. Hell, they may even push your organization at the very edge, stretching the runways, cash flows and giving the C-levels some nightmares. But the ones who choose to grow this way are the most likely to reap the rewards in the long run.

One of the best places and times to hire a Growth Manager is when the company is opening up a new office in a new geography. The founder / C-level / co-founder that is in charge of opening this new office should first hire the growth manager to essentially build infrastructure for operations, sales, recruitment and marketing and benefit from their network and expertise, especially regarding process design and management. Without this person to drive the new office growth, the pace will be significantly decreased due to the lack of bandwidth of the person opening the office alone.

It’s here that the redundancy rule stands very strong – have at least two people in the company with overlapping skills, that way if one gets hit by a bus or goes on vacation, the other can keep running the shop.

Hire a Growth Manager that is curious, hungry, that has built at least several other projects, managed business units or functions from zero to regional if not global impact. Give them resources and freedom to act, trust them to build the infrastructure which will enable the product-market fit startup to grow, the established company to expand and the team to specialize and move from a learning – jack of all trades type of roles to production focused, quota focused, ROI, KPI focused machines that will deliver the results for your next round or the IPO or the results you will need 3-4 quarters from now.

Remember, it’s not just about the 10x growth requirement or the go-to-market readiness that needs a Growth Manager. The best companies hire one before that so he/she will have time and resources to build the vehicles to be used in the future growth process.

Digital Tips Startups

Breaking into Startups in San Francisco is not like on HBO

When I moved to Silicon Valley, I thought to myself:

Man, opportunities will come at me from every corner!

While it took me just over two weeks to break into the startup world, others aren’t so lucky to have pre-existing connections or traditional startup backgrounds and get rejected a lot. I got rejected too, before hitting it big at DigitalGenius.

Last night, a few awesome folk launched a different kind of startup podcast: one that’s about beating the stereotypes, conscious and unconscious biases of Silicon Valley startups. Not just white, male, top tier school graduates should be the ones joining companies backed by top VCs or household names like Google, Facebook or Twitter. Everyone should have a shot, but they don’t.


That’s one of the reasons the community behind Break Into Startups came together and supports one another – the only way to break the pattern is if we all work together. No more job board rejections, no more interviews where you are given a hard time because you don’t fit the pattern.

If you agree with what I said, listen to their stuff, subscribe and leave a review to help spread the word. Share, tweet, post for a more inclusive, more creative world.


I’m refocusing this blog – Growth hacking vs. Growth Management

It’s been 2 months since I moved to San Francisco and I feel it’s time to refocus this blog on my newest endeavor – growth management.

I don’t believe in growth hacking as a sustainable strategy – it’s good for the short term, good to work with it if you don’t have resources, but once you are set to build a product or a brand, you’ll soon find it’s shortcomings.

I do believe in growth management as a structured, intentional and long term process that creates and leads a change management process within the organization. Growth management focuses on creating the right mindset, culture and infrastructure for a company to grow 10x, for a department to launch a product and scale fast without experiencing too many growth pains – like overload, intermittent service, poor quality or lack of materials etc.

I’ll try and transfer some of my learning here as I grow and build with DigitalGenius and it’s going to be an interesting ride for sure, as the artificial intelligence space is in its infancy and no one has ever scaled an AI company to the level we’re about to attempt. Join me in this journey.

Startups Venture Capital

How To Choose The Right Investors for Your Startup [with Examples]

I have been involved with startups for the past couple of years and one of the most frequent questions that came to both my mind and in entrepreneurship community discussions is how to choose an investor. This is a two sided question, as both you as an entrepreneur and the investor must find common ground on most things to share resources – their money & influence vs. your company and future success.

So for the entrepreneur, it’s a process of research, pitching and due diligence, while for the investor it’s a process of deal sourcing, evaluation, investor branding, network and due diligence. Both sides need to do a lot before any deal even begins to travel through the pipeline. Since I value the experience of others, I pulled the best advice from several online forums & communities to cover the top criteria on how investors and entrepreneurs choose eachother.

It’s very much like marriage – successful ones always are backed by lots of work, lots of getting to know eachother, bad ones are spontaneous and crazy.

Jason M. Lemkin said on Quora that the entrepreneur should focus on what they need according to the stage they are in. In the early days, you will look at:

  • Help scaling from nothing to something.  An investor who’s actually done what you’ve done for real can help you here 10,000,000x more than someone that hasn’t.
  • Help getting at least 1 great hire.  Can the investor help?  Hiring is always impossible.
  • Help with the next round.  This should not be underestimated.  Is the investor someone VCs like to follow?  For real?  And will he or she be able to help here?
  • Help with PR and promotion.  Most investors can’t do this.  But some can.  This can help.
  • Help making you seem Hot (or at least, Cool) before you deserve it.  Few can do this.  But it’s super valuable.
  • Help being a true mentor.  Related to the first point.  Very few can really do this.  But if you can get someone to really help you be a better CEO — this is worth its weight in gold., in a recent article, focuses on 4 key questions:

1. Do you click on a personal level?
2. What can they bring to the table?
3. What have they invested in before?
4. Do they usually do follow-on rounds?

While the first one is a no-brainer, given that you’ll be working together for several years, the second question is often overlooked when money shines bright. Look beyond the cash and check the points made by Jason Lemkin, check expertise, experience, network and resources. They will end up being more valuable than the cold, hard cash.

Here’s another great piece of advice from backing what I just said:

Cohen: They should make introductions for you to other investors, customers and partners. They should be asking you what your issues are and how they can help. With my companies, if I know what your top three issues are on a regular basis, I’m happy. had a piece about this from a few entrepreneurs that went through the successful investment process (the bold part is my choice):

“Pick investors who believe in you personally and who you feel you can be open with,” said Danielle Morrill, Referly co-founder and former director of marketing for Twilio. She advises companies to find investors they can trust and won’t abandon a business when it’s going through rough times.

Sales-Griffin’s final note is that it should never be about the money. “The real value is in the regular hands-on advice and strategic support,” he concluded.

Christopher Mirabile said on Quora that not all investors are created equal and went on to name several categories of sins related to investor behaviour. Helps a lot to have a red flag checklist when going through the hoops, although I don’t agree with him on all the points or the severity of them. Here’s a selection:


giving you bad advice and insisting you follow it
lacking, honesty, honor, integrity and good common sense values
being bigoted, sexist or likely to harass or disrupt members of your team
being unable to make up their mind on whether to invest (or what strategic course to take) and always wanting another meeting

Red flags:

insisting on a board seat but having no value to add
failing to understand or keep current with the company’s technology or positioning in order to represent the company well
not being able or willing to introduce you to other investors or customers, failing to actively support and “talk up” your company, having no network or connections or networking skills to help you build the team
lacking business fundamentals or experience with sales, taking a lot of your time and requiring a lot of hand-holding
insisting on dilutive advisory shares or consulting fees for no, or dubious, value
being unpleasant, close-minded, inflexible and generally difficult to get along with
lacking knowledge of how to structure a round, lacking knowledge of how to stage capital into a company

And last, but not the very less least, Mikko Asaarela put together a very comprehensive list of questions investors should be prepared and expect to be asked.

1. Could you refer me to entrepreneurs who you’ve worked with who highly recommend you?

2. How many Founders/CEOs have been fired by the board from your portfolio companies? Can I talk to them? 

3. How much return have the entrepreneurs seen from exits in your portfolio?

4. Can I talk to the founders of failed companies in your portfolio?

5. What kind of follow-on investment do you think the company needs to succeed?

6. What is your end game?

There is no quick win or recipe for success. Every company and every investor are different, so go through the process of getting to know each other, research online and offline, ask tough questions and work on your personal / investor brand beforehand. It helps speed up the whole thing.

Advertising Business Models

Brands, Content & the LinkedIn Native Content Ad Exchange

I was at the Grow with Hubspot conference in London, where LinkedIn’s Jason Miller (Senior Content Manager and author of this huge guide) and Kipp Bodnar (Hubspot CMO) held a fireside chat about the future of advertising.

After so many years and given their struggle to bring more than 1 out of 4 members per Quarter on the site, you would expect LinkedIn to showcase some sort of innovation. Especially when the revenue growth seems to have slowed down and the past two quarters have been flat.

LinkedIn Native Content Ad Exchange

If you don’t have inventory on your own website, start expanding somewhere else. Like Google did with the Google Display Network, once it realized the potential beyond search engine marketing.

So why doesn’t LinkedIn do the same with content? Their revenue is driven by the Talent Solutions, accounting for 62% of the Net Revenues this last quarter and their Marketing Solutions account for only 19%. There is a huge untapped market here because marketers have a problem:

Millions of pieces of content are published every day, but there are very few trusted ad exchanges where brands can easily place authoritative content that positions them as industry leaders. 

LinkedIn has the brand and the influence to solve this problem as a Marketing Solutions product. Just imagine if you could bid for your content to appear on the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, all on the same exchange. LinkedIn would provide the platform for it, share the revenues with the publishers that insert the embedding code and the brands would pay for the exposure.

LinkedIn can build this as an iteration of Pulse or buy one ad exchange / native advertising company, but they need to grow their advertising revenue base because with it, they will grow their brand and with that, the users will return more often.

What do you think about this? Would it be something that a marketing person could benefit from or should we stick to the media agency contacting the media company model?

Later edit: Recent analysis points to the fact that LinkedIn needs to pivot towards diversifying revenue sources to hedge against labor market risks.

Photo via Michael Ruiz


Looking for the new Romanian Country Manager for TransferGo

I’m heading off to the San Francisco Bay Area in less than 2 months and it’s time to find a capable, passionate and smart person to replace me at TransferGo for the Romanian Country Manager role.

For the past year, we’ve worked towards gaining traction in the Romanian diaspora for TransferGo and switching as many migrant workers from old, expensive cash to digital money transfers and help them save money for their families.

We’ve achieved a lot, I personally learned many great things from the people I found and worked with at TransferGo and there’s a great opportunity to capture the market in the next few years, as more and more Romanians abroad join the Digital Diaspora and get familiar with online financial services. TransferGo is a great place to apply marketing, management, planning and business development skills. It’s also a great place to be intrapreneurial, as the corridor teams that are run by Country Managers are pretty autonomous.

It’s not a place for a corporate manager, nor is it a junior position. If you are experienced enough and with an entrepreneurial spirit and would thrive in a flexible environment where you would build not only your team, but challenge your goals and strategies every day, then apply here and we’ll let you know if we want to talk more.

I’m here to answer any questions to the best of my abilities.

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Change Management Startups

Applying Agile Performance Management in a High-Growth Startup

I created this project while working as GTM Country Manager for a fintech startup in the UK in 2016, as part of a McKinsey Agility Hackathon.

Insight: People perform better when the manager spends time with them to set individual objectives as part of the bigger picture.

I observed this insight after running a test project with two new joiners in the TransferGo team. Given the nature and stage of the business, there was no structure or process to translate high level business objectives like corridor activation rate or number of distinct buyers to the level of individual contribution.

I worked with Robert and Elena to create these individual goals, keeping the context and the company / corridor objectives in mind. I’ll explain how this evolved in the context.

Thank you: McKinsey Agility Hackathon 2016 Group No.2 – Performance Management and to my colleagues at the time, Robert Popescu & Elena Grapa


The Agility Hackathon start date is in sync with one of TransferGo’s fastest growing months and throughout the length of I on-boarded two new members in our Romanian corridor team.

TransferGo is a 3 and a half year old startup at its 3rd round of funding, having grown from pre-seeds to one of the largest seeds in the industry. The company focuses on international digital transfers, mainly from UK to Eastern Europe, targeting markets like Romania, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. We are currently offer local in local out money transfers from the European Union to up to 42 countries.

Over 100,000 people have already saved millions worth of commissions versus banks and other traditional money transfers providers and we are proud to have contributed to the recent changes in the margins that Western Union or Moneygram use for their Romanian, Polish or Lithuanian customers.

Thanks to the latest 2.5 million USD investment, our headcount has increased significantly but the core structure remains relatively flat. We work in clusters around ethnic corridors – Romania and Poland – and with a core team responsible for all other parts of the business.

Agile Marketing Management

As a Country Manager, my role is to increase new distinct buyers, activation rates, money flow, revenue and overall branding and marketing indicators. While at first it was a one man game, the volume of work and the scope of the responsibilities has grown and I added two team members, one Customer Engagement Specialist (Robert) and one Community Manager (Elena).

Not only did I create the job descriptions and responsibilities for them from scratch but I also had to make sure that they had some sort of measurable outcome of their work. We also had to build the performance management system from the ground up, as there was no previous history of any similar roles.

Agile allowed us to move quicker and be more strategic in our approach to design and plan for the new roles. The marketing team had experimented with the Agile methodology, having switched from two week sprints to one month ones to dropping them altogether and focus on daily stand-ups and weekly catch-ups. While this method is extremely agile, it can be very confusing if you are a new hire and it is expected of you to generate daily priorities and weekly objectives that contribute somehow to the overall corridor results – new distinct buyers, activation rates, money flow, revenue and overall branding and marketing indicators. So how did we transfer the overall objectives to individually digestible pieces?

The Hackathon Pilot Project

We had difficulties in finding the sweet spot for both positions in terms of initial objectives, as we had no reference point in the business, so we decided to estimate what would be an ideal outcome – how many people they were supposed to bring in through customer calls or through our referral program, then start working and review along the way over each cycle – weekly and monthly.

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Design, Work, Learn – a mix of Scrum with Lean Methodology.

Customer Engagement Specialist

For Robert, our Customer Engagement Specialist, we had to review the objectives and reshape them to reflect the reality of our database – number of UK based phone numbers, age of each lead and the likeliness that they would pick up and convert. This resulted in creating a system that initially focused on monthly objectives, which was less motivating and resulted in high variance in call numbers. After a month, we switched to metrics he can fully own (like number of call attempts per day and win rates) and call numbers instantly became more consistent, with conversions rising. Robert also became more engaged, more proactive, thanks to our weekly catch-ups where we looked for solutions and celebrate small wins.

Community manager

The second part of the pilot project meant I was to start weekly sessions with the Community manager as well. However, the goal setting and management process here is less precise due to the nature of the job, but we gradually formalized metrics to measure growth – registrations, activations and meetings with our referring customers. This meant that Elena knew how she was performing every day against the weekly and monthly targets but also towards the commitments that had indirect impact on the referral program growth.

Implications & Outcomes

I found that individual accountability is critical to the overall success of the group, in my case – Romanian language migrants corridor, as it gives team members the ability to plan and act on their own, reduce dependency on the manager and increase personal effectiveness.

Even if the goals are not realistic at first, it’s important to set fluid objectives where each new hire can operate, otherwise they will feel lost. You, as a manager, should make sure that the team revisits objectives and that they reflect the market reality and the capacity of the employees, so as not to demotivate them due to the objectives being too low or too high.

Remember to celebrate small wins, it helps with team member morale and contributes to proactive ness, autonomy and personal effectiveness.

Going forward, for me the challenge will be to scale and adapt this successful experiment for further hires and train future managers to use the same principles that worked in my case – the Agile On-boarding Playbook.


I’m looking to evolve the model, so please send me your thoughts about:

  • How this on-boarding process works for other managers, other companies, other cultures and other stages of the business
  • What’s missing and what can be improved in the current model
  • How this scales to larger teams without adding more management overhead

I’ll take comments & direct notes!

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash