AMA with Guillaume Cabane, the growth mad scientist

Doug Roberge on March 25th 2020

Guillaume Cabane is a growth marketing expert that helps early-stage companies scale. Prior to his current role as a growth advisor for G2 Crowd, Gorgias, MadKudu and others, Guillaume held VP of Growth roles at Drift, Segment, and other successful startups.

Guillaume is somewhat known across the growth community as the Mad Scientist. His experiments range from creating fully personalized web experiences to using live chat to deliver hot coffee to a prospect in 15 minutes! He’s an expert at using technology to build extremely high performing growth campaigns.

The questions he received in our AMA were incredibly varied, from what are his first steps when working with a company to how COVID-19 is changing work as we know it. Read through the AMA transcript below to learn more about Guillaume’s growth strategies.

If you want more details on what’s discussed below, check out Guillaume’s Growth Masters lesson. Enjoy!  


When you initially start working at a company, and you are tasked with improving “growth,” what do you typically do first?

What I’ve realized is that no one person in a company is in charge of the entire lifecycle of the customer, from A to Z. So, I like to start with a simple Q&A within the company. I ask questions that allow me to follow the customer journey, every step. I see everything the customer sees and touch everything the customer touches to find where the breakdown is. I guarantee you, there is always a breakdown. 

I’ve found there is usually one of two problems: some websites have healthy conversion rates. The company knows their audience, they have good traffic on their site, they just need more of that audience. Or, a company may have huge traffic to their website but with a low conversion rate. Then we start working from there. 

For a B2C FinTech company, which tools do you recommend to predict LTV and the quality of a promoter in a referral program?

I’d say you have to start “on-site.” Look at your website properties and mobile app property behaviors, and then you can build a model. Based on that, you can see if someone’s behaviors are predictive of that person being a good referral. To me, a big issue within FinTech is fraud, so people who set up to make fake referrals to get a couple of bucks. To prevent that, I recommend some of the Segment integrations like Castle. These both have endpoints that you can use to detect fraud and automatically exclude those so you can avoid paying any fees. 

What are some of the most promising growth tactics that you are experimenting with now?

Well, my job is to find the outliers. If your company is using all of the same tools as every other company, and your only differentiation is your core product, that’s a problem. We are assuming you have a great product, but that means you’re not using marketing to leverage that core product in a way that is compelling or different from your competition. Unless you find a great tool that is an outlier, something that your competition has not yet employed.

Based on your experience with B2B, what conversion uplift would you expect by introducing industry-based personalization in a website hero or logos or something like this?

Great question! A couple of years back, I started to do industry personalization in the signup flow. I started capturing the email on the homepage and then doing Clearbit enrichment between the homepage and center page in order to personalize based on industry. We were able to put much more relevant logos up as social proof on the side of the signup module. That was easy to implement and that generated a significant lift from around 12-15% more signups right away. 

The same can be said for personalizing down the funnel. You want to start personalizing the onboarding emails or the app but not just to the person, also to the use case, so by industry and role. So, if I have a MarTech executive or an e-commerce sales director, you push content that’s adapted to their specific use case. Why do we do this? When you have a large SaaS app that can do anything, like Segment or Airtable, your customers can get choice paralysis. Pushing content personalized to them and how they can use the app eliminates this. 

Can you tell us how you use Google Ad Words to better understand campaign/ad performance? (Editor’s note: Get the scoop on this question from Guillaume himself)

Outside of Javascript, what skills do I need to look for in a Growth Engineer hire?

Well, they don’t need to know marketing; they will learn marketing with you. What’s important to me is mindset. I want people who are entrepreneurs—who have created something and failed. Why is that? Because in growth, we fail often, maybe 60-70% of the time, and with all of these failures, we have to throw them away and move on quickly. But, if you are in love with your code, and you’ve worked so hard on it that you can’t throw it away, then you will never move up. 

Second, you need to be able to pivot and move on to the next thing without your old code dragging you down. 

Third, you have to be able to cut corners. If we know that we are going to throw away 7 out of 10 of our experiments, we can’t put the same effort into the quality of all of them. So, our experiments are pretty bare-bones, but that’s okay! Because the ones that work, we return to and clean up. The only way this works is by shipping a lot of things very fast and seeing what works. 

What’s the best way to attribute marketing efforts when you’re a relatively young company?

This is really an internal decision. There’s really no right or wrong answer, rather, you’re taking a stance and saying, “This is how we think we bring value to a prospect.” There’s no way of knowing if that email was more impactful than an ad campaign or that touch over the phone was more influential. What is important is how you measure those touches. So, I don’t measure email clicks, I measure email responses. I look at people who have taken the time to read the blog post or who have spoken with my sales team, and we pull that data into our warehouse. Then I see who is generating the most positive engagement with the customer. 

Also, measure negative engagement rates. For example, if you’re pushing a chat and having a very high rate of people closing the chat without answering, that is a negative engagement—you’ve created friction and annoyed people. So, you can begin to see which channels create positive and negative engagements and work from there. 

What differences do you see between growth-stage startups that are able to sustain and scale and the ones that fall short?

Well, one part is luck. You need the right product, in the right market, at the right time. We are seeing this with the COVID situation right now. Two weeks ago, a lot of remote working tools were not a market fit, now they are. So, that’s the luck part. 

If we put that aside, I’d say the second part is understanding how you grow. If you are lucky but don’t understand how you grow, you can’t accelerate your growth at the right time. And the third thing I would say is focus. I’ve seen companies lose focus too early. Focus, focus, focus, this is how you grow. And, finally, I would say data visibility and awareness. People in your office need access to understandable data so they can make informed decisions. 

What impacts do you see as a result of COVID-19? How will that change your growth strategies?

Well, obviously remote work and remote learning. Traffic in those categories is up 200-300% right now. We are also seeing budgets for in-person events reallocated to digital acquisition. The problem is that we are all doing this at the same time. So, we see CPC and CPMs increasing because more budget is being pushed toward that. But, CTRs are going down because people are not in the mindset of buying right now because COVID is such a huge distraction. So, I’m seeing CTRs go down on campaigns even though the cost of acquisitions is going up. So that is destroying the economics of some campaigns right now and that is a huge problem.

We also have an anticipated unemployment rate of 20% in the next 3 months. A lot of SaaS products rely on our customers being able to sell something to consumers, and if that consumer is not spending anymore, then we are going to feel that impact. 

If you have a company, you should be building plans for mitigation of these events. You should be building a Plan B, Plan C in case things don’t improve. What KPIs will you look at now? How will your plan adjust to those KPIs? With some good planning, we can come out of this successfully. 


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