In Order to Grow, You Have to Change | Scott Kim

In Order to Grow, You Have to Change

with Scott Kim

 

About today’s guest:

My guest today is Scott Kim, the CEO of RocketReach, which connects professionals to new opportunities, powered by the largest and most accurate contacts on this planet. He has an incredible career of turnaround work at companies including About.com, Zocdoc, and other brands that you’ve heard of oftentimes coming into a company and having them reach historic highs of revenue and growth. In this conversation, we talked not just about that, but also about what’s the key to making a company grow and thrive, and about the role email should play within a company’s communication strategy.

As always, May I Have Your Attention is brought to you by captivate.ai, which turns your podcast into three months of social media content, you can find out more at Captivate.ai.

Time Stamps:

  • Scott’s background [0:15]

  • Top three priorities to change in an organization [4:16]

  • How to know what is actually good for the company’s growth [7:04]

  • How to use customer feedback [9:22]

  • Is email dead? [12:46]

  • Where email fits into a portfolio of a company’s communication [16:32]

  • What drew Scott to RocketReach [18:26]

  • Scott’s advice for growing a company [20:41]

Selected resources:

Transcript:

Justin Nassiri  00:01

On this episode of May I have your attention.

 

Scott Kim  00:05

I’m a firm believer that in order to grow, which is what every business wants to do is really grow. You have to change today we’re

 

Justin Nassiri  00:12

talking about the question is email dead. My guest today Scott cam is the CEO of rocket reads CO and he has an incredible career of turnaround work at a companies including about.com, Zoc. doc and other brands that you’ve heard of oftentimes coming into a company and having them reach historic highs. I’m talking 40 year highs in terms of revenue and growth. So a very adept leader. But in this conversation, we talked not just about that, and what’s the key to making a company grow and thrive. We talk about the role email should play within a company’s communication strategy, as [email protected] you’ll find Show Notes for this episode, as well as links to all the resources that we discuss. So with that, let’s get started with my conversation with Scott. Well joining me today in New York, my guest is Scott cam Scott, welcome to May I have your attention.

 

Scott Kim  01:07

Thank you very much for having me.

 

Justin Nassiri  01:08

Want to give listeners a abbreviated bio on Scott. He is the CEO of rocket reach, which connects professionals to new opportunities, powered by the largest and most accurate contacts on this planet. Since graduating from Stanford University with a Bachelors of Science in Computer Science, he has served as the Chief Strategy Officer at asked calm, the chief Operations Officer of about.com, the CEO of bankrate.com, and the President of Zoc. Doc. through each of these, he has a proven track record of taking companies in need of a change for growth, and transitioning the organisation and business in a way that fuels growth. So the first question I have for you, Scott relates to a conversation you and I had a couple weeks ago, I actually want to give a little bit more context for viewers because turnaround work might not do enough justice here. So just to kind of give our audience a sense here at bankrate, in less than three years, you led the company to achieve a 40 year record high for both revenue growth and profitability. And then at about calm, you’re the CEO, you’re responsible for the overall p&l and strategy. You drove consecutive years of revenue and EBIT da growth to record levels highs in the 20 year history.com. I mean, it’s a pretty amazing thing when you look at 20 and 40 years to achieve those sorts of high. And when we were talking about these turnaround works, you said to me that businesses need change to grow. And I’d love to just expand on that, because I’ve been thinking about that since we spoke.

 

Scott Kim  02:46

Yeah, let me just say first on the banker piece, it’s kind of an unfair comparison. Because, you know, in a 40 year old business, the internet didn’t exist before. So you’re comparing an internet business to like a newspaper business. And that’s why part of the reason why we were in a successful and really thriving that business to long term growth, I would

 

Justin Nassiri  03:01

even push back there and say, the number of companies I’m imagining that didn’t succeed out of that the number is where they just took a downward plunge permanently. So even to kind of like, see an advent of a completely new medium and be able to make the transition that in of itself is incredible.

 

Scott Kim  03:18

Yeah, no, I think, look, I’ve been lucky enough to have some really great opportunities. But you know, I’m a firm believer that in order to grow, which is what every business wants to do, is really grow, you have to change. And you know, the best analogy I have, of course, is like working out. Like, if you want to get in shape, if you want to be fitter is going to be healthier, you’re going to have to change things that you’re doing, whether it’s the way you eat, or like your workout regimen, or the frequency of workouts, or the length of workouts you to change something to do something different, and to have a different outcome. And so I think, you know, by nature, if you want to grow a business, that’s the definition of change. And in order to get that growth, you’re gonna have to change the things that you do. And of course, there’s a lot of contextual issues as well, right? So the world is changing, people’s behaviour is changing. There’s new technologies all the time, or something like COVID happens. So when there’s a changing environment, and you have a need to grow, you have to change of business as well, either in its

 

Justin Nassiri  04:14

operations or its strategy. I’m appreciating the complexity of that as well, because you’re dealing with a company, which is this living organism and finding the changes there. But it’s also amidst this backdrop, like you said, of changes in the industry and technology. So there’s so much going on there. Do you have any tips for like, how have you discerned between what needs to be prioritised to change versus what needs to be the same? Like as you enter into an organisation? How are you knowing what to put as the top three maybe priorities to change?

 

Scott Kim  04:46

Yeah, I think you know, it starts when I know when entering into an organisation The first thing is, of course assessment. Part of that assessment is kind of like what does this business have that’s super valuable, and that is positioned in a way that it has some advantages. So usually Structural advantages versus competitors. And then you try to fit those structural advantages and the differentiation of that business, whether it be the product, the people, the process, the data, something within the business, we try to fit that within that larger landscape and context of the world. And try to figure out where you have leverage points, right, where you can take advantage of those things that differentiate you as a business against that backdrop, so that you can kind of gain market share or grow the business or do whatever you’re trying to do. So it’s really like assess what you have assess the context and figure out how those puzzle pieces fit together in a way that you have like leverage to do what you want to do long term.

 

Justin Nassiri  05:40

I know we’re speaking in generalities, which is dangerous. But I’m curious, does it usually was your sense that in the companies you worked in, was it usually like a extreme focusing was it like before they were diffused, and their focus and your job was defined? I don’t even know what the percentage would be. But like the 10, or 20%, to triple down on like, was it a narrowing of focus? Or what what was that like for you,

 

Scott Kim  06:02

a company that’s been successful historically, and, you know, luckily, the companies that walked into, had been historically very successful, usually. And because of that, you know, when you have some previous success, you often need to widen the aperture to go after more growth, right. And that’s what you normally have to do. But sometimes, when that happens, you kind of lose focus on the core assets that you truly have, that have kind of led to the growth you’ve had so far. And then that widening of the aperture kind of causes a lot of bad things to happen to the business overall. And then it’s kind of like this thing that happens is you do kind of reassess and refocus in the areas you think give you that structural advantage. So that happens a lot, you know, the business I’m in right now rocket reach, that’s not the case, right? This business has been growing very quickly, for since its inception. And the advantage that we have is like a really good product. And in this case, you’d like double down on a like, we need to hire more product people, more engineers and other folks to really continue to build the quality of the product, because that has been the mainstay of the business historically. So I think, you know, it’s kind of different depending on what what you walk into. But I think in general, in turnaround scenarios, there’s a lot of like, kind

 

Justin Nassiri  07:07

of focus on the two or three things that really matter to the business to move forward. And we’ll get more into rocket reach in a second. But I do want to ask at this point, because it feels like a reversal. And I’m really curious where it’s not a turnaround situation as a high growth situation. Are there ways that you’re thinking of kind of codifying what the essence is of rocket reach or like how you think about keeping it really clear where your focus is, as you expand. And I like that analogy you use of the widening of the aperture, I can imagine you’re in a position where you could start to address a lot of things. So how you think of whether or not that is distracting or whether or not that’s actually good for the company’s growth?

 

Scott Kim  07:49

Yeah, no, I think that’s a constant conversation that we’re always having, within the business, you know, kind of stay in our lane, I think that’s, you know, a strategy that many people have to stay in our lane is one area to do really well in? Or do we kind of do things that are kind of outside of that lane, most likely adjacent to that lane, so that we can grow market share, or get better lock in or better retention or whatever kind of whatever metric you’re trying to move within the business. And so it’s a constant conversation, like, you know, quite honestly, like, you know, what’s the difference between a company that this is the lane, and then a company that this is the lane now, this is a little bit wider, right? It’s not that huge of a difference. And definitely, of course, still very conceptual conversation. But I think for us, it’s really about the metrics are trying to drive in the business and the metrics try to move, if we think, for example, there is a large market share kind of segment to go get by, you know, increasing the aperture of our product just a little bit, we might go do that, we absolutely might go do that. Whereas in other cases, you might be like, Ah, you know, we could go do that. But then we’re kind of outside of what we do well, and there are other companies that do the other thing really well. And our job then is to integrate with them really easily. So that it’s like a one click one button thing, so that, you know, taking data from rocker reach into your other system is as easy as possible, and let them build awesome product in that part of the world. So we talk about this all the time, kind of where are we today? Where do we want to go? Because it’s some advantage we might have in that part of the world. And then other conversations are like, where do we not want to go? Because we will never be a better product than some of these other products. In that part of the space.

 

Justin Nassiri  09:21

Two things I really like about that. I like the moment to moment nature of that it’s not like something that’s done you check it off, but it seems like a continuous process of of having that internal dialogue. And second, I really appreciate the honesty there of like, hey, are we the best suited for this? Or should we partner? I think that sometimes there can be some bravado and bluster and like, Oh, we can do anything. And that could lead to some strain. And one other question I had with this relates to the role of customer feedback. And, you know, in my mind, I feel like there’s two extremes that I’ve seen. One is I love that quote from him. I think it was attributed to Henry Ford. That was If I had listened to my customers, I would have built a faster horse. And I always think of that when it’s like, well, you know, customer feedbacks really good, but sometimes that can lead you astray. And then in my own experience, I started a company called video Genie, that was all about video. And our customers kept on saying, Hey, we want to do photos. And I didn’t listen. And we missed an enormous opportunity by not listening to that feedback. So I’m curious as you think of defining your swim lane and where to expand, how do you use customer feedback? But how do you give it the appropriate weighting? So you’re not overweight in it or underweight in it? And those two extremes?

 

Scott Kim  10:37

Yeah, so I think generally, like the I think the infrastructure for which I think about customer feedback comes in two big channels, versus the quantitative feedback. And this is, you know, the information you get kind of lately from our users every day, by the way, they use the product, right? So you’re kind of trying to log everything, trying to figure out what they’re using, what the path through the product is, and what parts of the product are really kind of liking and which part of the products are generally ignoring. And get a tonne of quantum feedback that way. And then you have to match that up with qualitative feedback as well. And so you have to go talk to customers, but you literally have to go talk to customers, with customers or your own and customers of other products, or adjacent products, and find out what they like about the products that they have. And then you really need to weigh those two things together. And then as you mentioned, you have this, like third dimension, I would say, of things that you just consider, which I would consider kind of like innovation, right? Like, you know, oftentimes, you just don’t know what you want, until you see it. And so trying to get great customer even to describe some of the future path of what you know, what they would want, oftentimes is limited in its thinking, right, because they don’t know what kind of data you might have, or they don’t know what kind of access to, to other things that the product might have to dream up a new scenario within the product that can be you know, highly used. So I you know, those are the three kind of stools, three legs of the stool for me. And you know, it’s it’s oftentimes going to come down to just a lot of conversation between you know, you, the consumer and your own team, the product team in the design team really trying to think through the different scenarios. And I just don’t think there’s a simple recipe that fits here. Well, from an operational perspective, the thing that really works well, for the businesses I’ve been in, you know, luckily, it kind of internet scale is testing, right, you can test quickly and either fail quickly or succeed quickly and, you know, double down on successes and, and just stop the failures very quickly. And you have to be, you know, very intentional about stopping the failures quickly. That’s kind of the iterative process that we try to go through. But it’s like conversation, iteration conversation, iteration conversation iteration, we try to make that process go as fast as humanly possible to try to get to the roadmap that we think will win long term. I hadn’t

 

Justin Nassiri  12:45

thought about it like that. But it does seem like iteration done correctly is such a good solution there. Because you’re able to try out and see if it gets traction, see if it actually works, rather than just making this in a silo. So I really like that I wanted to ask, and this is pretty broad. And obviously when the bias that you run a company that deals with email, but the big question on my mind right now is, is email dead. And I’m just maybe I’ll use that as a launching off point for a multifaceted discussion.

 

Scott Kim  13:15

Yeah, like emails, not dead. Very simply, just like, you know, people will tell you the direct mail is not dead, it’s still one of the most effective marketing channels that many people still use. And I think on email, there’s a couple things that have happened contextually that have made email even more important over the last kind of close number of years, obviously, number one is COVID. If you think about it, that a lot of the ways people used to network and meet other people have really gone away for a little over a year now. And so you can’t go to conferences, you can’t go to networking events, you can’t do a whole bunch of things that you used to do. And so then now you do have to reach out in some form or fashion. And I think email is the preferred method. And now I also think there are other channels that have been used over the last decade or so where I would argue that the signal to noise ratio has gotten pretty bad sometimes to cut through the clutter, you want to send an email either directly from an account to a direct account, as opposed to just kind of spamming a huge list. And then you want to personalise it and do a lot of things within to kind of get activity on it. Of course, I believe that emails absolutely not dead. And if used properly can be a super effective channel for whatever you’re trying to do. Whether it be you know, sales or marketing or recruiting lots of different use cases for it, obviously, but you still have to do it well, right? But you still have it just having the address doesn’t mean that you’re going to get through, but the first thing you have to have from infrastructural perspective is you know, who you’re trying to reach, and what is their contact information.

 

Justin Nassiri  14:39

I like that the sense of kind of like the sniper approach, and two weeks ago, I sent an email to a lady I actually obtained her email address through rocket reach, but sent a very specific email like I had spent 20 minutes looking at what she was doing on LinkedIn and all this other stuff. And she responded and say like, Hey, I never respond to these His emails, but I really appreciate, and I think it does come through because we have so many examples of email being used poorly. But that doesn’t mean that this channel is flawed, it just means that a lot of people are sloppy or lazy, or maybe misguided in their approach. And I like to use that term Signal to Noise cuz I think that, again, if used properly, you can slice through the noise by crafting a message really pertinent to whoever you’re trying to hire, whoever you’re trying to get as a customer, you can really tailor and slice through that. I know that a lot of times people will wonder about sending an inmail versus an email or things like that, do you have any any sense on the differences? Or why one might consider email instead of something like an email?

 

Scott Kim  15:46

Look, I think with email, you have a lot of flexibility. Number one, right, you do a lot more things, I think, with customization and other pieces that you can’t necessarily do in an email. Email is also a little cheaper to send, obviously, than an email. And you know, and part of the signal to noise that I personally, you know, feel right now is oftentimes my LinkedIn account, there is a little bit of noise that kind of happens in there now, because people are starting to use that channel, obviously a lot more now than it did 510 years ago. And so I think those are kind of the the biggest differences for me. But again, if you can create a strategy for email, it’s very effective. Email can be an extremely effective channel, I think it’s, you know, it’s gonna be around for a very, very, very long time. For the people that can create an effective strategy with

 

Justin Nassiri  16:30

  1. And I know everyone’s kind of different in their communication, but I can only, you know, to my chagrin, only imagine how many times a day on this device, I’m checking my email, like, it’s such a conduit where someone gets my attention, good or bad. What about when you think of like a portfolio of a company’s communication? Where do you see email fitting into that?

 

Scott Kim  16:50

You know, I think it’s definitely a portfolio right. And I think that it’s, you know, oftentimes used as, as one of the foundational elements of their communication strategy, right. So you know, typical products have email they have in product notifications, they might even have some type of messaging application, over text or, or through the app itself, lots of different channels. But I think oftentimes, emails considered like the foundational element, and then these other channels are kind of built on top of it. And there may be used for very bespoke purposes. But if you have broad communication, if you you might want to use email, if you have any specific communication you want to do, you might want to email just so that people can use it asynchronously, they can save it, they can go refer back to it, there’s just a lot of advantages of why email is a foundational aspect of the overall communication strategy.

 

Justin Nassiri  17:36

I like that too, because it’s it’s it deep pressure is the role of any single communication channel, like you’re realising that all of them play a role. And sometimes I think that myself, and I’ve seen other companies do this, it’s kind of like you put a little bit too much of a bet on any one thing, rather than realising like, you know, let’s not expect too much of one thing and realise we have to, you know, there needs to be a symphony here rather than as a single instrument. Yeah. And

 

Scott Kim  18:01

I think the selection of which communication channel you use in any given moment is really dependent on the message you’re trying to deliver. The timeline is that message, you want to catch them at a moment of intent or usage. There’s like a lot of reasons why you would choose a specific channel. And and I think that ultimately should determine which channel you use it like, What are you trying to get through, you know, right now, tomorrow, next week, kind of pick your tool of choice, after you decide what you’re trying to do? First,

 

Justin Nassiri  18:26

one thing I wanted to ask about just as a fellow entrepreneur is, you know, from an outsider perspective, I see you at the helm of very well known very large organisations. And for part of that it was turnaround work of really helping a company achieve a next level. And then I see with rocket reach, you’re joining a smaller team. It’s it’s not a turnaround situation, it’s a situation of a company that’s been doing really well. What was it that drew you to to rocket reach? And what at least seems like to me is that a pretty big departure from some of the things you’ve done previously,

 

Scott Kim  18:57

it kind of feels like a big departure when you look at it at the surface level. But back to the analogy of kind of working out or change, you know, the commonality of all the businesses, whether they’re in a turnaround scenario, or just truly a growth scenario, like rock reaches that they need change, right, they need change to, in this case, to continue to grow at the pace that we’re growing. But in the turnaround scenario that he changed to really kind of bend the U and get back to growth. And so while they look kind of different at a superficial level, I think ultimately, from an operational perspective, they’re oftentimes many of the same things that you employ. In order to get that change to get to the business’s goals. There’s a couple things that really did draw me into rock ridge. Number one, the people starting with the two founders of the company. They’re truly product focused founders who have done a tremendous job in building this business since its inception. And then around them they built and assembled an awesome awesome team that was also similarly product and customer focused. So that was number one. Number two, I thought I could add a lot of value. You know, with some of the knowledge I gained over previous roles, I thought we can add others parts of the business that that could be bolted on top of a product centred business, I thought that I could help really get this business to where it really can be given the quality and strength of the product overall. And then finally, I have enjoyed being able to go a little bit deeper on various things. You know, it’s kind of one of those things like, I used to be a former engineer. And I would never say that I could go back and develop code right now. But there’s a little bit of me that would love to go back and do a little bit of that, and being able to kind of go a little bit deeper on various aspects of the business and be at the foundational level of some of the parts of the business that we’re building right now. I found a lot of kind of fulfilment in. So that’s been really fun.

 

Justin Nassiri  20:40

Yeah, I like all of those aspects. And it’s got to be fulfilling to, like, realise that, like, the product is good, the product has always been the centre of a company. And now it’s just about raising awareness, which I feel like is what a lot of us are trying to think about is when we’re really passionate about a product or a team or a company, how do you get the word out there to the right, people. I love that fit. I want to ask one last question intentionally open ended. And I’m just really cognizant that there’s probably things I didn’t ask about that you might want to share about and with particular attention on for the audience member who’s thinking about how do I raise my brand awareness? How do I get ahold of the people I want to hire or the people that I want to work with. I’m just curious if you have any other advice on that, or growing a company that you’d want to share with listeners, before we wrap up,

 

Scott Kim  21:32

for me, these businesses that I enjoy working in and want to work in our businesses that have a core foundation of a solid product, strong people and a really good culture, right. And I think that oftentimes, if you can take care of the foundation, opportunities arise all over the place to get your brand out there. And it might be about talking about your company about from a cultural perspective, they might be talking about your company purely from a product perspective, which is you know, where you’re going to spend the vast majority of your time focusing on but you know, I think very simply put, if you can build the foundation of the business the right way, a lot of these other opportunities to talk about the business and network about the business and you know, sell the product and other things, they come up so naturally, but if and only if the core of the businesses is has been set properly,

 

Justin Nassiri  22:17

I love that I want to just dig deeper on this because I foundationally loved it. And correct me for my was it was product people and culture, it’s not simple, it’s incredibly difficult to get any one of those three, right. But I like to use your analogy, narrowing your aperture on like, let’s build the best product possible. Let’s hire the best people possible. And let’s create a culture. I always think of Netflix, let’s create a culture where people can thrive, where we’re doing great work, where people are happy, and happy cows produce good milk. So I really like that. But I want to also say like, there’s part of me, I think that’s always afraid ever since reading a case study on VHS versus beta. And sometimes in my mind, I’m like, oh, man, what if you have the best product, but you just don’t market it? Well, or you don’t sell it? Well. And so that’s like, the one thing I noticed coming up in me is like, I really like the thought of just focusing on product, people and culture. But then there’s this deep seated fear, right or wrong, where it’s like, well, there may be inferior products out there that are marketed better. And I know this is just kind of off the cuff. But I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that,

 

Scott Kim  23:24

unfortunately, that does happen, right? Where you have, you know, what, objectively speaking a superior product, but for whatever reason just doesn’t take hold within the the larger kind of community, or customer base, or whatever it may be, I think a lot of these scenarios have a lot of contextual elements to them, you know, with like large companies and other things that have, you know, interest that are outside of the core product. But you know, for me, you know, getting the product in the hands of as many people as possible, so they can make their own determination of what’s a superior product, I think that ultimately, hopefully leads to the right endpoint, right? There will absolutely be extra analogies, whether it be a regulatory externality or you know, a government externality or something that might cause other outcomes to happen. But I think ultimately, if you can show that your product is truly better, and then get that product into a wide, wide swath of people who can make their own determination of what they think. And if your product is truly better, the hope, obviously, is that they continue to choose to use their product over and over and over again. And that was all for the majority of those cases. Of course, there will be you know, singular and potential outliers to that, that, you know, will be hard to solve for at times.

 

Justin Nassiri  24:41

Well, what I’m also appreciating there is back to your point about iteration. It’s like in order to build a good product, you have to have people using it, you have to have the feedback cycle. And I think what’s coming through most for me is the passion that comes through for you of getting this product in front of people because I know that when I have a product I believe in. It’s easy to evangelise for, you know, it solves a pain point, you know, it makes people’s life better in some ways. So you want to get it in more people’s hands. And I like that sense that like a good product leads to passionate selling passionate marketing, because you need more user feedback, and you want to have the biggest impact possible. So I actually like your answer on that, as well as your acknowledgement of the incredible nuance that I’m glossing over. There’s so many other factors. But that’s great

 

Scott Kim  25:31

to kind of, you know, double down on that a little bit like if your product is better, let’s assume that for a second. And you can get into as many people as possible into the hands as possible. And then you evangelise it to them, evangelise your product as well, right. So there’s like a bit of a, you know, an exponential multiplier effect that happens here, when you can do that successfully. So that that’s another aspect of why to get in as many people’s hands as possible.

 

Justin Nassiri  25:53

That’s great. Well, thank you so much for your time on this. I will say, you know, in full transparency, I’m not endorsed for saying this or anything, but I have used rocket reach for a long time. It’s rocket reach CO and I’ll just say that, as someone who does a lot of email, I used to try to like kind of hack into how to get ahold of people and the time saving of just knowing like, okay, I want to talk to this specific person with this very custom message. Let me just figure out their email, it’s and know with certainty, it’s going to work. It really makes my life easier. But I think it also what I like about it is it supports a process that I am a believer in, which is like, if you’re gonna reach out to someone, don’t be generic, try to be specific, try to do your homework. I’m a much bigger fan of like, spend five or 10 minutes before you send an email rather than blasting 10,000 people, none of us like that. It never works. And I think your tool is in least from my perspective is supporting that channel have a little bit more one to one personalised communication. And so I would encourage listeners to check it out at rocket reach co

 

Scott Kim  26:59

Thank you, thank you for the kind words and everyone’s seen that you know, email that clearly has come from an automated system that says hello, first name. So yeah, I totally agree with you. That is definitely the right way to use email as your communication channel.

 

Justin Nassiri  27:12

Thank you for listening to me, I have your attention. Each episode I meet with top marketers thought leaders and experts to find out how individuals and brands can get keep and make money with attention. You can subscribe to me I have your attention on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. show notes are provided for each [email protected] slash podcast. May I have your attention is brought to you by captivate.ai, which turns your webinar or podcast into three months of social media content, find out [email protected]

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