Marketing the world's fastest growing startup with Dave Schools, Head of Marketing, Emerging Products at Hopin
As the pandemic has shaken our lives for the past two years, meetings online and virtual events have become the new normal. Hopin transformed the traditional webinar experience and this led the company to skyrocket.
On this episode of the FINITE Podcast, we chatted with Dave Schools, Head of Marketing, Emerging Products at Hopin. He shared his story of how he met the founder Johnny, and how the company followed the market through the pandemic to grow from $0 to 7.75 billion.
This episode covers:
- About Dave and his role at Hopin
- How did Hopin start?
- What would Hopin be like if COVID hadn't happened?
- How did Hopin segment the market before the pandemic?
- What was the key driver of Hopin's growth?
- How was marketing structure at Hopin?
- How does the marketing team function now at Hopin?
- What is the internal culture like at Hopin?
- Tips on hyper-growth for SaaS startups
- What Dave would do differently if he were to go back to the start of his Hopin journey
Listen to the full episode here:
And check out more of the FINITE B2B marketing podcast here!
Hello everyone and welcome back to the FINITE podcast. I'm excited for today's episode because we are joined by none other than the first hire and marketer at Hopin. You probably all know a little bit about the Hopin story now, being the event technology platform for virtual events.
Dave Schools was the first hire and marketer at Hopin. And one of the founding team, he joined the business in September 2019, working alongside founder Johnny. When the business was really edited at the beginning of its existence.
Fast forward less than two years to August 2021 and Hopin has a valuation of 7.75 billion US Dollars. We're going to hear all about Dave's career and his journey before Hopin, how he was introduced to founder of Hopin, Johnny. How he first got hired and joined the business, how COVID impacted the journey and what Dave's learned. And some of his reflections from two years of what can only be described of hyper-growth and his experiences, setting up the marketing foundations and go to market at Hopin. I'm very excited for this one. I hope you enjoy.
The FINITE community is kindly supported by the Marketing Practice, a global integrated B2B marketing agency that brings together all the skills you need to design and run account-based marketing, demand generation channel and customer marketing programs. Head to themarketingpractice.com to learn more.
Hello, Dave, and welcome to the FINITE podcast.
Thanks Alex. Great to be here.
Looking forward to talking. I think I mentioned to you. I've been looking forward to this episode for a while. I think of all of the companies that we've had on the podcast or people representing companies on the podcast. It's fair to say Hopin had some attention in the last year or two little bit here and there.
So I'm looking forward to hearing all about the journey and the story. Why don't you, as I mentioned, we normally kind of begin with a bit of a tell us about your background and how you got into marketing, all of that kind of stuff at work. The focus of the episode is how you ended up becoming a part of the Hopin rocket ship and the scaling of the business and marketing team and stuff.
So why don't you tell us just really quickly, a little bit about your current role at Hopin, and then we can turn that all the way back to the beginning.
About Dave and his role at Hopin
Yeah. Currently I'm the head of marketing for emerging products at Hopin and that's kind of a role I've jumped roles since the beginning of the company over the past two and a half years since being the first hire part of the founding team at Hopin, but currently, still on the marketing front and focused on our emerging products.
Nice. And emerging products, I guess that's a category of like new products you're launching. I know you've been quite acquisitive as the businesses that oversee some of those kinds of acquisitions as well.
Yeah. And I can't speak too much in detail about it, obviously. But yeah, we've acquired five companies and we build and buy as part of our overall product strategy. And, I'm part of the GTM motion for standing up a lot of these products.
Nice. So why don't we go all the way back to the beginning, because as you mentioned, you were a founding team member at Hopin. You were working on all kinds of things before Hopin, but will you tell us a little bit about your background and background in marketing and kind of just the pre Hopin days.
Sure thing. Yeah. So my background is in entrepreneurship. That's where I started. And then, started leaning into marketing as my career developed. The first marketing role I had was at a chamber of commerce. I studied entrepreneurship in college.
Then I joined the chamber of commerce to help run their events. And I was kind of the marketing coordinator there. Then I pitched a job to a commercial real estate development firm as director of marketing and ran marketing for that company.
Then I moved up to DC and joined a design development agency, and that was in 2017. I helped sell projects, kind of large, a web app and website projects to clients like ESPN and World Wildlife Foundation. I quit that job a year later to travel and focus on my own projects, kind of returned to my entrepreneurial roots and my wife became a travel nurse.
So I followed her around the country, the US and we moved to new cities every three months. We were in, we started in DC, we moved to Phoenix, then salt lake city, and then, San Francisco for a bit, until we landed here in Richmond, Virginia, which is where we are now.
But during that time, you could say multi project entrepreneur. I had a novel that I wrote. I had an app company that I co-founded called Party Qs. That's a conversation starter app available in both stores. It's available now. I've a medium publication called Entrepreneur's Handbook, and that's been extremely pivotal to my career and probably more on that here in a bit, but it's a top medium publication. I worked directly with Medium. I've got a team of editors, we've got 208,000 followers on the Medium platform.
I also became a writer for Inc magazine CNBC, helped launch trends with the hustle. And to make income, I was a marketing consultant for a tech startup during that time.
Nice. And I think that segues into the, how you met Johnny founder of Hopin story.
Yeah. I met Johnny through Entrepreneur's Handbook. There was an interview I did with David Markovich. He's the founder of Online Geniuses, one of the largest slack communities for digital marketers. And we were talking about how do you build a slack community with over 16000 active members. I think they're double that now, but as we were speaking at the end, David Markovich sent out a flurry of emails, introduction emails, based on some overlap studies saw with the projects I was working on.
And one of them was to Johnny Boufarhat. And so we had an email intro that was December 2018. And then we jumped on a call, Johnny picked it right up. And then, we just started kind of developing a friendship, like founder to founder. He was kind of an indie hacker, like early stage developer working on Hopin. And so he showed me the platform and we kept sinking, like every month, every couple of weeks over 2019.
And then in September 2019 is when I joined and jumped in with two feet. I quit everything that I was doing and joined Johnny full-time to help bring Hopin into market.
Nice. So December 2018, when you were first connected, Hopin was nothing more than what Johnny and basically a web app that he was building himself. It was just Johnny.
Okay, cool. But the vision of what happened is now, was it more or less the same, or like it was heading in that direction back in 2018.
How did Hopin start?
We started with virtual events. Johnny saw and his personal story kind of paints the picture where he had a personal illness and was kind of restrained to staying at home when wanting to network and connect with people. And social media wasn't doing it.
You know, slack communities, Reddit, and these different avenues of meeting people remotely weren't quite enough. So he started building a networking platform that put people together over video and kind of helped people meet, connect and pursue opportunities and started as a virtual event platform, but quickly accelerated into much, much more. But that's how it started.
Yeah. When you think back to it now, it makes perfect sense. When you think about virtual events, it's hard to think back to a time when I think the same about Uber. The idea that you can just order a taxi on your phone seems like such a fundamental part of culture and society now. Whereas it's almost crazy to think that there was a time when that didn't exist.
It's almost hard to imagine it. I guess it's the same with virtual events, like platforms have existed for a while, right. And people have been running a bunch of events and webinars and stuff pre COVID, but really just being defined by COVID.
That was really what we saw in 2019 when we were pushing out was that virtual events was synonymous with webinars, but with a webinar that's more content focused and not really connection focused. Like you don't really meet people at webinars, just a one-way passive reception of information, as opposed to putting people together over video and exploring collaborative opportunities. You know, like that an event really does.
So Hopin did a pretty good job of replicating the benefits of an in-person event online. And we said, we weren't a webinar platform at the beginning. We provide that now. But at the beginning, we were careful to position ourselves away from the traditional idea of what a webinar was.
Makes sense. And so September, was it September 2019 you said you'd jumped in kind of two feet first hire as such? Was it a marketing focus or I guess a company that size you're kind of naturally doing a bit of everything, but I'm sure with a marketing focus.
Yeah. Wearing a ton of hats. I said GTM, and what I mean, me not coming from a Silicon valley tech startup, you know, venture funded company before a lot of this was learning.
Similar to Johnny, but a lot of this was learned as we were building the ship at sea, you know. And so I guess to encapsulate all the hats that I wore was on the GTM side, like standing up the knowledge base, building the first website, putting together the first case studies of that kind of work.
Nice. So the real fundamentals. And so that was September, 2019, obviously running into the start of the new year. News was coming out of China. That was this disease starting to travel around this virus on the loose. Was there a point at which maybe a different way of asking the question is if COVID hadn't arrived.
Do you think, I assume you were planning to raise money and start growing and scaling around March 2020 anyway, by the sounds of it just in terms of the general timeline, but I guess that kind of ended up coinciding with COVID to some extent, but how do you guys view COVID arriving and the impact to Hopin?
What would Hopin be like if COVID hadn’t happened?
So that's a good question. Like if COVID didn't happen, where would Hopin to be at today, it's a good one. And truthfully, I can't say exactly what happens happened. But we did see interestingly, a viral coefficient at the beginning, it being a Hopin being a virtual events platform, we saw a percentage of attendees would sign up and become organisers themselves that kind of confirmed: Hey, we have traction and product market fit going on here. That percentage was between two and three per cent of attendees joining an event of some kind or liking the platform and then becoming a signing up for an account to manage their own events.
That's the network effect. That's PLG, that's really powerful in hyper scaling, which is as far as word of mouth. Yeah. We saw that before the pandemic started to take off. And then, I joined the company without meeting Johnny in person at all and then flew over to London and met him.
And I was coming back from my second trip in February 2020. And that's when I was stopped in the airport being asked: Hey, have you been by the security? And have you been to Wuhan China in the last two weeks questions like that. And I was like, what is this? What's going on? I had heard a little bit about it, but it was just starting then.
And then little did we know add a couple more weeks, like a matter of weeks. And we were just wall to wall. Our calendars were wall to wall with demos, like seven days a week back to back with people needing a virtual event solution, the world pivoted to virtual. We were fortunate in the timing where we were a little more established in the market. You know thanks to pushing out earlier than now the dozens of competitors who have cropped up.
So those were inbound inquiries to the people who were Googling virtual event solutions. So you had enough of a presence in a footprint from a marketing channels perspective that if people had the intent and began their search, they found you somehow.
Okay. Event planners, talk to each other. And marketers talk to each other with the tools that they use. So I said the organic inbound was really strong. And from a marketing perspective, a lot of it was like, how do we grease the machine?
You know, and like get out of our own way and just let engineering build features that people were asking for and let sales close deals as fast as I could. So a lot of that was product marketing in the early days.
And what about like that early customer base? So just going, when you said even pre COVID two or three per cent of users were maybe coming along and then signing up for an account after as managing their own events, I'm always fascinated by where that first bit of traction comes from.
And I think from more of the companies, I know that ultimately you have a product that could be used by pretty much any type of business, right? Anyone running any kind of virtual event of varying sizes and scales and you've got products within the product and you can kind of appeal to anyone.
But I think the interesting point is how do you get that first bit. Because once it takes off, as you say, word of mouth people talk, or was there a particular pre COVID, were you thinking this is a real good fit for this sector or this type of business or the size of business? Or how were you beginning to segment your marketing?
How did Hopin segment the market before the pandemic?
Yeah, it's an interesting question because we started kind of with the indie hacker, you know, solo entrpreneur, small shop agency, creator kind of audience at the beginning. But then as we started building out Hopin and we saw that it fit conferences pretty well and like larger tech conferences.
And so the accelerator, one of the impacts of COVID was we moved up market quickly and shifted to B2B rather quickly, and started building out a sales lead, a team and an enterprise plan. So that was something that as far as segmentation, the market kind of showed us that we just followed the market there.
And then, once one tech conference, I remember a pivotal moment was in March 2020 when the Wall Street Journal held their medical forum, like a health forum. And this is right around what is this novel Coronavirus that the world is now dealing with.
So that event happened on Hopin. And from that was kind of like a make or break moment. Like if we pulled this off, it was going to bring other people to our door. And so we did and the event was a success.
And then next thing you know, you have TechCrunch Disrupt, the Atlantic, The Information, The Next Web, all of these other media publications because there's kind of like a: Hey, what platform are you using? We kind of helped set that standard from that event. So that was a pivotal moment I'd say in Hopin trajectory.
Interesting. So, yeah, it sounds like there was some really some key moments like the ones you've described, but also people really talking to each other, as you say event managers, marketers like to share their stacks, the tools that they use. But in terms of like marketing maturity at that point.
Now you said you were working on websites and case studies and like really getting stuff off the ground, but in February 2019 going into March, like were you running paid ads? Were you anywhere to be seen on Google? What were any of those things important? Or was it really more the human side, the referral side that was driving everything?
What was the key driver of Hopin’s growth?
Definitely the human side. Yeah. The inbound was kind of enough for us to do paid marks. When you're innovating kind of carving out a new category. That's where what people are searching for that isn't really something you want to outbid competitors.
And because we set our number at the beginning, we didn't have direct competitors with our offering. So it was something that was completely new. And there's a bit of an education and use case demonstration of what Hopin was and how it was different from pre-existing options. So not a lot on performance marketing at the beginning.
But a lot in customer marketing and doing things that didn't scale or it's like really understanding how customers were using it. And then building sales enablement materials that allowed them to paint that picture and close the deal because remember the PLG engine was built into the product. So if sales close more deals, more people came to the platform.
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And what about I was just thinking about from a funding perspective. Have you raised a seed round at that stage or where were you in that kind of journey?
Yes, so funding. We had a seed round in 2019 with some angels and a select group seed camp. We got into seed camp in the UK and then excel led our series a, I believe it was June in 2020.
Okay. So you were kind of on that journey, but I guess, is it fair to say that COVID helped speed up some of that journey too? Like it was, as you're kind of there filling up with demo requests and things were just beginning to scale. Having those conversations on the funding side, no doubt becomes a lot easier.
Yeah. I mean, investors like to see hockey stick growth, right. And that's exactly what was happening at unprecedented levels with Hopin. So Johnny did a phenomenal job on telling the story of Hopin and what the future looked like.
But I guess most businesses that are going on that venture back journey are kind of at pre-seed and seed, typically very product focused marketings often like non-existent slash and afterthought.
Maybe around seed series a there's like a general marketing manager and then a marketing function starts to become a bit more serious. I'm stereotyping and generalising a bit. So not always accurate.
But is it fair to say you got started on marketing sooner than a lot of to B2B tech, SaaS companies might because I guess you were kind of really building the product. And you were forced to by COVID, but really scaling growth and building the products really side by side, rather than what's more traditionally the route of being more product focused and then at a certain stage really scaling things.
How was marketing structure at Hopin?
Sure. Yeah. There's today Hopin marketing team is 45 people, I believe in it under a CMO Anthony Canada. So the marketing team kind of caught up. I'd say at the beginning of 2021, we did not hire fast enough on the marketing side during 2020. And that was kind of the dilemma between working on the business versus working in the business.
So we had, I hired seven folks on the initial marketing team and then Anthony took over and really exploded the team. But yeah, I mean, in the early days, it's product marketing, content and comms.
And so were those the kind of roles that you focused on?
Yes, content and comms. We relied on agencies like we had 12 during 2020, and I had a marketing team of two with 12 agencies. So we outsourced a ton in order to move fast. And, you know the thing that changes when you're going through hyperscale is that the only constant is change. And like a six month plan is kind of useless, like the business and every customer will all change within a month.
So that ability to be adaptable and be like water was the phrase that Johnny led the company with. So being able to adapt to what was thrown at us during this crazy time, I'd say allowed us to rise with the tide.
Yeah. Good advice. And looking back, would you go down a similar route of being able to execute and scale quickly using agencies and outsourcing. Did that feel like looking back hindsight's a wonderful thing. But did it feel like that enabled you to do a lot more than you would've ever been able to hire for?
I recommend agencies 100% and some of this comes from advice that Armando Mann, who's the chief business officer who came in I believe it was June 2020, but he said that it's easier to hire and fire an agency spin up, spin down an agency than it is to hire and fire an employee.
So it allows you to move much more quickly with an agency and there's talented folks on the agency side. So that's, you know, they're not all great fits, but it's much easier than hiring for the right person, the right role, don't rush hiring, you know what I'm saying? That was one of the lessons I'd say we learned on in the early days.
Yeah. Makes sense. So you mentioned now team of 45 marketers, pretty global in terms of location. Can you give us a sense roughly of kind of like how things are structured in terms of teams and where they focus?
How does marketing team function now at Hopin?
Leadership team for the marketing org is four pillars. Think of it in four pillars, brand marketing, revenue, marketing, product marketing, and corporate marketing. Corporate marketing that's kind of a bucket term for customer marketing, events and partnerships
Everyone's global and pretty spread out broadly?
I think we're in like 48 countries. It might be more than that now, but yeah. All remote, no offices and quite the team size now. I mean from where we were literally two years ago to where we are now a completely different company.
I can only imagine. So you went from employee number one in a business. That was pretty much what yourself, Johnny and a few contractors began hiring in early 2020. And now, I mean, I think as of August, you were close to eight billion, seven, three quarter billion valuation US dollars and a team of what now you tell me.
We're over a thousand.
The marketing team has grown pretty significantly, right? You initially a team of 7, 45 now, but there's other roles that have just exploded too. So culturally, I can't even begin to process how that works. It sounds like you're a very culture led business and that's something that Johnny is instilled and there's a strong vision and strong narrative.
And that I think when done well that trickles down across everything. And if you got onboarding, right, and you don't rush hiring, as you said, then it can work. But even then that level of growth can at times feel a bit chaotic or not to put words in your mouth, but can imagine this. And some moments where it can feel a little bit too much.
What is the internal culture like at Hopin?
No totally. At Hopin, what's allowed the culture to scale with the company and being a remote first company is one the team of people at the top that are leading the company and put the values that we have. You know, for example, one that's been around since the beginning that Johnny embodies is no ego, hashtag no ego. Don't take yourself too seriously, have fun. Like things change that kind has been throughout. Another one is impact over hours.
You know, it's not about being on the clock, you know, at certain times it's the quality of the work that you do. So, yeah, and then we dog food, our own platforms. So always doing events, like you should see our All hands. Our All Hands on Hopin has like this show, that's just mesmerising and energetic and like crazy engaging.
And I'm like laughing and dancing every Friday morning because of our All Hands. So that happens multiple times during the week. So I think, you know our own platform, we're kind of living out the example of what internal culture looks like in a remote world.
And you use Hopin internally for like meetings and stuff?
Yeah, we use our own tools.
Kind of incubating. We have enough people to incubate our own products. So Stream Yard, we love Stream Yard. We create videos with Stream Yard and broadcast.
Very cool. You mentioned that you run the Entrepreneur's Handbook, which is a great resource. Something that you still run alongside everything you do at Hopin in the pre day Hopin.
As you talked about, and you've written a Hyper-growth Playbook and lots of fascinating content on that. Are there any bits or anything that you maybe looking back, you think having been on the journey of hyper-growth and I think if we can categorise anything as hyper-growth. It's definitely the last 18 months at Hopin.
Any kind of tips, anything, any reflections from that last 18 months or so?
Tips on hyper-growth for journey
One of my favorite quotes came from an anonymous Redditer and it is that "You learn more in three days of action of taking action, then in six months of doing research."
Another way to say that is thinking deliverables, and this that's kind of a mantra that I operate by where, when you're moving fast, a lot of times people spend time making sure that we get the answers right. And we have this doc, a strategy doc and make sure we document every contingency and mapping out the project from beginning to end. And when you're hyper scaling, a lot of that just gets thrown out or it's not worth it.
So begin with the end in mind, there's that principle, but then think about what does it look like when it's actually published in market customer facing, like being used in the product, thinking what the deliverable looks like helps you to move fast.
Does that work at a larger more corporate company? No, you need meetings, you need the docs, you need strategy to have alignment. And that's really important at this stage, but in the beginning, I'd say, like have a bias towards action.
And what about now with over a thousand people, strong brands, a great story. Everyone, pretty much everyone knows what Hopin is. Are the meetings catching up? Does it feel like that things are a little bit slower moving, not necessarily in a bad way, but just generally a bit slower.
Naturally more people are involved and we'll be able to take on the journey or do you think you've managed to maintain a lot of that kind of move fast and maybe break stuff, but just get stuff, prioritise, and get stuff done.
I'm more of an early stage kind of entrepreneur, startup kind of guy, and having grown now in an organization at Hopin. I've been able to learn and see the value of meetings and the docs and collaboration and alignment.
And it allows you to move this much bigger ship, have longer term impact and ensure that it's quality, quality, quality all the way. And that's kinda just par for the course, like that's required at this stage.
So, I see the value in it and it's worth going through the systems and processes to make sure it happens.
And I guess another question, just looking back on the journey. We talked about some of the things that you kind of learned. Are there things that you think fundamentally you would do differently, or if you reverse yourself back to margin again, appreciating that hindsight's a wonderful thing and what's happens happened, but are there learnings that you think actually, if we had a chance to lay the foundations again, from a marketing perspective, we would do this a bit differently.
What Dave would do differently if were to go back tot the start of this Hopin journey
Yeah. Interesting. I thought about this. I didn't hire fast enough on the marketing team. I was way too, like one of the risks of the thinking and deliverables type attitude was I was way too much in the trenches. I was just heavy execution and the being able to rise above and kind of think long-term, even though, you know it's going to change, you still need a plan.
And so being able to hire some of those execution roles away and let go is something that I wished I had done. And practically what happened at Hopin has comes from Johnny in order for us to hire at the scale that we did, which some weeks was 50 new people a week, like on Monday. And he said: "Once you come into Hopin and turn around and hire three of your best co-workers or friends.
That's how we were able to pull off kind of just recruiting stunt, not stunt, but like grow as fast as we did was everybody brought their best co-workers from previous professional experiences. So I wish I had done that. And I think that would have allowed us to have more of a strategic plan rounding 2020 and 2021.
Yeah. That makes sense. And so now you mentioned that marketing seems pretty much caught up in your words as of this year. Does it feel like there's a bit more balance in that? There's a team and structure and process that now is just about aligned with kind of the rest of the company and the growth plan and you kind of got the strong foundations in place.
Yeah, I'd say so there's the team that's running the marketing org, those four pillars has been around the block, let's say a few times with a rapid growth and has playbooks that we can apply and there's a lot more predicting the future and kind of controlling our destiny or another term is inorganic growth that we now have the machine in place and the growth levers identified to be able to hit targets.
Cool. Well, that takes us pretty much to time. The conversation has flown by, which is always a good sign. It's a pretty epic story. And one that I think everyone will be pleased to hear, but also excited about watching you guys into the future too because I'm sure things will just keep on building.
So I really appreciate you coming on the podcast and sharing everything with us. So thanks again,
Sure thing Alex. Thank you. Pleasure to be here.
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