March 28, 2014

Data-Driven Company Culture With Lars Of KISSmetrics

About the host

Jacob Shriar
Growth Manager
Officevibe Twitter
Montreal, Canada
Passionate about company culture. On a mission to make work better.

About the interviewee

Lars Lofgren
Growth Manager
KISSMetrics Twitter
San Francisco, CA
100-500 people

Video Summary

Lars Lofgren, Growth Manager at KISSmetrics shares how they are able to create a flat culture that lets workers be autonomous, while being a distributed team. KISSmetrics is an analytics company, so they rely heavily on data to make decisions.

Related resources

Video Transcript

Jacob: Hello everyone. I’m Jacob Shriar, Growth Manager at Officevibe. And today I’m joined by Lars Lofgren, who’s the Growth Manager at KISSmetrics. KISSmetrics is an incredible company. We’re going to go into more detail about what they do and talk a little bit about their company culture and how they work. So, Lars, thanks so much for taking some time to be with me.

Lars: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m happy to help and go into all the detail so people can learn how we do things over here at KISSmetrics.

Jacob: For sure. So let’s start from the beginning. Maybe for people who might not know exactly what KISSmetrics is, can you please just tell our audience a bit about what KISSmetrics is, what you guys do, a bit of background.

Lars: Yeah, so KISSmetrics is a customer analytics tool. It’s an analytics tool, kind of similar to Google Analytics. But where Google Analytics and all those other tools really focus on like event tracking, page view tracking, that type of thing, KISSmetrics takes all that data and ties it to an actual individual.

So you can see what that person does over the entire lifecycle of that customer, and where they originally come from, all the marketing campaigns they hit along the way, every feature, every event that they trigger on their site, what they purchase, how many times they purchase, the amounts, all the different products, so you can get a complete picture of what an actual person does on your website in your app at your store. So that’s the main focus of our company.

Jacob: Okay, great. Thanks for that. And, if you can, maybe just a bit of background on you and what you do there as the Growth Manager.

Lars: Yeah, so when I originally… I’ve been here about a year-and-a-half, and when I originally started I was more of a content marketer. I was building our support articles, blog posts, and I got into webinars. But now I am the Growth Manager and that kind of revolves around three core responsibilities.

The first one is our conversion rates and how many leads that we’re growing for our business that we can then pass on to our sales team. So, basically, hitting those lead counts every month, and increasing our conversion rates. And then I also get pretty involved in our own company data, making sure that we’re tricking the right KPIs, the data is clean, it’s all integrated and everything. And on top of that, I spend a lot of time with our marketing infrastructure, making sure that’s, you know, all our email systems are working, we’re tracking everything correctly, or everything’s getting passed on to the sale team smoothly and correctly. So it’s a lot more back-end type stuff these days.

Jacob: Sound super interesting.

Lars: Yes.

The Culture At KISSMetrics

Jacob: (Laughing) If you can, my next question for you is, just from a high level, obviously I’m going to go much deeper into detail, but from a high level, talk to me a little bit about what the culture is like at KISSmetrics. It seems like an amazing company. I’m just dying to learn more about what’s it’s like to work there.

Lars: Yeah, so our culture really revolves around… there are a couple of core components. The first one is really, like, leadership and, and jumping into things. So we, we really encourage people at our company, to, if they’re excited about a project, to just get after it.

Even if they break something along the way, that’s okay. We’ll fix it. We’ll do damage control, whatever. But we don’t want people to be too risk-averse and to be, I guess, too afraid to go out and try new experiments, even when they’re new at the company and they’re just getting started. So we’re always taking people on and trying to get them to push as, as far as they want to and take as much responsibility as they’re willing to take on.

And kind of an extension of that, we really focus on just learning as fast as we can, and that’s kind of the one asset that we place the most importance on. So especially on the marketing and the product side. And even if we do experiments and it fails, that’s fine as long as we’re learning and we’re learning as fast as we can and we’re getting really deep insights. So we’re always asking ourselves, “How can we learn more about our customers?” If we have a certain problem, how can we get more insight into which option is the best? How can we run a test? How can we do an experiment?” You just focus on the actual learning. So I think those two tenants are really important and are kind of the core of our culture.

Jacob: Yeah, you hit on something that I was going to ask you in a few minutes.

Data Driven Company Culture

Being that KISSmetrics is an analytics company and a marketing, you know, a very data-based company, I’m assuming that you have what’s called a ‘data-driven’ company culture?

Lars: Yes.

Jacob: Okay, so I am right about that. If you can first maybe explain to everyone watching what that word means, ‘data-driven culture’, and then just go into a bit of detail on kind of how you use this data to make these decisions and things like that. So go ahead.

Lars: Yeah, so data-driven culture, well, I mean… I guess it’s easier to explain what it’s not because we’re more familiar with what data-driven culture isn’t. And in a lot of businesses, a lot of things are just run by intuition or the um, the ‘HiPPO’, the highest paid opinion of whoever happens to be in the room. And so people have these emotional gut instincts and they just make decisions based on that. And if someone has a lot of deep-end experience, some of those decisions are going to be right, but no one can be right 100% of the time.

So data-driven culture is kind of flipping it and focusing on, “Okay, if we have a decision to make, how can we get data on this decision? How can we validate this hypothesis that we have?” It’s really kind of a completely different decision process. It’s not… I guess a lot of companies when they approach decisions, it’s, “We have a couple of options. Let’s just pick one. Maybe we debate a little bit. Maybe we do a little research. Then we pick one and keep going forward.”

With a data-driven decision, or a data-driven kind of culture, we really start with… In order to start is kind of your options. You say, “What is our hypothesis, right? What is our guess on how we’re going to grow conversion rates, how we’re going to grow engagements,” whatever it may be. You have a hypothesis for what’s going to do that. And then you set up an experiment to test it some time to validate that or disprove it. And then you can just keep kind of working through that cycle. Hypothesis, get data, make a decision. Hypothesis, get data, make a decision. You just keep working through that as fast as you can, if that makes sense.

Jacob: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense.

Working With A Distributed Team

My next question for you is, we were chatting offline and you mentioned to me that most of the team is distributed, which is really interesting. So I’d love to learn more about how that all works, what tools do you use to all stay in touch, and if there are any downsides to that, really just any insight that you can share?

Lars: Yeah, so we have an office pretty much down-town San Francisco, and about half of our team works out of the office, or at least lives in the Bay Area, and they go into the office regularly. The rest of us, we’re spread out all over the place. I’m in Vegas. My boss is actually out in Orlando. Our data scientist, he’s up in Reno. One of our marketers are in Virginia. You’ve got guys in LA, Ohio, Austin, all over the place, right? Seattle. So it kind of really is an interesting dynamic. And really the marketing team, the team I’m on, we’re all spread out. None of us are really in the office regularly. So for all intents and purposes, we’re an entirely remote team even though parts of KISSmetrics aren’t.

And so how we run that is, is kind of a unique challenge, and when you have everything that’s running on a remote distributed basis, you have to be really deliberate on how you manage the processes on your team in order to keep everybody moving in the same direction, and making sure people’s tasks and their priorities are set correctly, and they’re working on the things that they absolutely need to be working on.

If you’re all working in the office, you have a lot more… a much larger margin of error, because you can kind of like, get face-time and constantly coordinate with people in the hallway or whatever. But when you’re working remotely, you don’t have that flexibility, so you pretty much have to be much more deliberate about it. So we use a couple of tools to keep ourselves on track. One, whenever we’re working, we always log in to HipChat, which is an internal company chat room. So it’s really easy to ping each other, ask questions, and stuff like that.

We get a ton of productivity increases from using Trello, if you’re familiar with it. It’s basically a really fancy to-do list that allows you to um, move to-do lists throughout a process of priority, saying, “Okay, this is a backlog. This is next on my plate. This is who I’m working on. This is what’s already done.” You can add comments to those tasks, assign people to them so that everybody knows who’s working on what. Really easy to see kind of where everybody’s at in a given day. So we’ve had a lot of success with that. It’s actually the first task-management tool that we haven’t hated. We tried them all. Basecamp, Asana, and we know they work okay, but they weren’t great. Trello is the first one that I’ve actually enjoyed working with.

Jacob: Yeah, actually, we use Trello as well at Officevibe.

Lars: Awesome.

Jacob: One of our… we’re three on the marketing team, and one of the guys is remote… he’s in Miami. We use Trello to manage all of our tasks, and I agree with you, we love it. And we use Squiggle, I guess, instead of…

Lars: Okay.

Jacob: It’s very similar to HipChat, of course. So I totally get you there.

Hubspot’s Company Culture

My next question for you is, I read a blog post that you wrote not long ago about HubSpot and their company culture. It’s a company that I love and I obviously look up to a lot. And I remember reading it, and you wrote that you kind of look up to them, too, and I believe you linked in the blog post to their… the culture code, that SlideShare…

Lars: Yep.

Jacob: That’s pretty popular. I’m wondering, was there any inspiration from HubSpot at KISSmetrics in terms of kind of developing the company culture, any lessons that you learned from them?

Lars: So we, we didn’t go nearly as deep as they have. I’m actually really impressed with what they’ve done. But we were kind of working on this before they announced and published their own culture code deck. But we do have a set of values, that we actually wrote out. We defined as a company, we added some brief descriptions, things like,
“Be a leader,” or, “Always be better than yesterday,” things like that. “Put people first.” So we have this set of values, and we do talk about them quite a lot. There are posters in the office. Whenever we have a company like All Hands and get together, we’re always asking, “Hey, how can we fulfill these values a bit more?” We haven’t gone nearly as deep as HubSpot did, and I think we’ll need to at some point, but we’re definitely kind of doing the same thing and defining it as a company, and then remember to call attention to it on a regular basis.

Jacob: Cool, thanks.

Employee’s Point Of View On Culture

Usually, when I have chats like this, it’s with HR managers or HR leaders, and it’s interesting that I’m not talking to one right now. So I’d love to actually ask you and get some insight from, let’s say, a non-HR, like an employee’s point of view into maybe… what are something things that you love to see the company maybe do better, or are there any tips that you can give from a non-HR manager’s point of view for anyone watching?

Lars: Yeah. So the biggest… probably my biggest piece of advice with company culture and kind of HR kind of positions is, defining culture is one thing. It’s kind of like defining the category of your product. You can just go out there and just say it, like, “This is our culture,” or, “Our product is in this category.” If your customers or, in this case, your employees don’t believe in that statement, if it doesn’t resonate with them, if it’s not authentic, it’s never going to stick.

So whenever you start to hash-out, what does your culture look like, once you’ve defined it, that’s great. But talking about it, that’s only going to get you so far. You need to go a lot deeper than that and really focus on how can we encourage this type of behaviour? How can we encourage actions that support these values? How can we take the lead and actually embody these values ourselves, and show people that we’re really going to commit to these courses of action even when there are significant costs involved? I think if you actually find ways to really act on those values, you’ll do a much better job at getting people to all support them, believe in them, and then really share them in the long term.

Jacob: Yeah, thanks. And if you don’t mind, just a quick follow-up on that. It’s just I’d love to learn a bit more about, maybe specifically, what things has KISSmetrics actually done… Sorry, what has the company actually done where you’ve said, “Okay, you know what, they’re not just talking the talk, these guys are really walking the walk.” I’d love to get some specific examples on things that, you know, you’ve seen, where you said, “Wow, these guys are serious,” right?

Lars: Yeah. So a good example is way…even before my time, when KISSmetrics was pretty small, there was an open vacation policy. In other words, typical unlimited vacation. If you need a day off, just coordinate with your manager. We’re not going to track any of that stuff. And I guess somewhere along the line, one or two people started abusing it, and our company went to basically change that policy. It went to a strict 10 days of vacation per person. And you have up to 10 days, use them however you want, but that’s the cap.

Well, recently, in the last kind of six months or so, you know with one of our values being, “Put people first, really take care of people,” having that restrictive vacation policy really doesn’t live up to that value, right, nearly as much as it could.

And even though there’s always going to be a person or two that abuses benefits like that, duly making other people suffer and going through unnecessary hassle just for some company policy. So we actually reversed that decision, and now we’re back to unlimited vacation. If you need a day off, coordinate it. It’s no big deal. And then if, you know, at any time, people are abusing it, we’ll deal with them one-on-one, individually, and then everybody else can just focus on doing work, doing great work, getting the rest they need, and then keep cranking. So we’ve done things like that, trying to find that balance of, “What policies do we actually need versus how do we really live up to our values?”

Jacob: That’s awesome. Thanks so much for that. Actually, at our company, as well, we have unlimited vacations, and it’s such a stress reliever. It’s just so nice knowing that you can take a break whenever you really need to. Not that there are no questions asked. I mean, you should be respectful and tell your manager you’re going to get some time off, but they won’t give you a hard time for it. I think that’s really the, the beauty. I think we’ll end it here. I just want to thank you so much, Lars, for taking some time to chat with me.

Lars: Totally.

Jacob: I appreciate it.

Lars: Yeah, thanks, Jacob.

Jacob: Yeah, for sure. Anyone watching this, honestly, check out KISSmetrics, Probably one of the greatest analytics tools I’ve ever used, and we’ll see you again next time.

Lars: Alright. Thanks so much guys. Have a good one.

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