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EMBARKING ON THE MARKETING EXPEDITION FOR TECH START-UPS

Pascal Ehrsam, Founder of Fractional CMO

This insightful podcast episode delves into the dynamic world of tech startups and strategic marketing. Hosted by Harshit Gupta, Director of Business Alliances at WYTLABS, the episode features a compelling conversation with Pascal Ehrsam, the Founder of Fractional CMO. Pascal, with a rich background at the intersection of marketing and tech, shares his entrepreneurial journey, the inspiration behind launching Fractional CMO, and the unique challenges faced by tech startups in their marketing endeavors. From aligning positioning and go-to-market strategies to overcoming budget constraints, Pascal provides valuable insights into the intricacies of the ever-evolving tech startup landscape.

Fractional CMO is service-based company that covers on-demand marketing strategy and executions that help drive maximum impact and ROI for tech start-ups.

Pascal Ehrsam
Founder of Fractional CMO

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of WYTPOD. My name is Harshit and I’m the Director of Business Alliances at WYTLABS. We are a digital agency specializing in SaaS and e-commerce SEO. My today’s special guest is Pascal, he’s the Founder of Fractional CMO, a service-based company that covers on-demand marketing strategy and executions that help drive maximum impact and ROI for tech start-ups. A big welcome to you, Pascal, I’m so happy to host you today.

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Now, before we dive into the Fractional CMO, can you please let our viewers know a little bit about you and your profession in general?

Yeah, absolutely. I was born in France, but I moved to the US about 25 years ago, and I’ve always been in marketing at the intersection of marketing and tech. I was on the digital agency side for about 12 years managing large global brands such as L’Oréal and HSBC and all their digital strategy. About 12 years ago, my journey shifted a little bit. I went to the startup side where I became a CMO for FinTech. I did that for two years and helped them go from Series A to Series B. And then I realized that there was a niche in the market for fractional CMO, essentially. About 10 years ago, I launched my business and it’s been quite successful since then. I’ve been working with different founders, and CEOs of different tech startups, a lot in SaaS lately, but my biggest client right now is a B2C company in the SaaS industry. There is depending on what clients are looking for.

So, Pascal, what inspired you to start Fractional CMO altogether and work with the tech and tech start-up?

I think that the main reason was that working in my first fintech, I realized that I like the entrepreneurial spirit of young companies and the possibilities and the ability to have a marketing impact, number one. And then number two, I also realized that a lot of those companies that are young, don’t necessarily have the projects to be able to hire a full-time senior marketer. I put one and one together and we’re like that fractional CMO was a solution. At the time, 10 years ago, he wasn’t very popular. Fractional CFOs were somewhat popular, but fractional CMOs or CEOs were not popular. I was a little bit of a pioneer and I had to carve out my journey and build my offering and be clear in terms of the value I could provide to my clients. But it’s been a fun journey for sure and the possibility, of the ability to build a business alongside a founder by bringing my marketing expertise, is exciting.

I’m sure. Since you mentioned that budget is one of the issues, what are the other challenges that tech startups typically face when it comes to their marketing? How do you address those challenges?

Yeah, budget is often the primary concern because we’re talking about early-stage companies. I think that the second and third things that I see most often is one, the positioning. The positioning of the company is not necessarily aligned to the problem they’re solving or to the customers they’re going after. I help realign that and make sure that we’re being very clear as to who we are, what we do, how we do it, and so on. Then the second is the go-to-market. How do we go to market? What channel should we use? What promotion should we use? Do we do a premium? And so on. Since you work in SaaS, some of the challenges, especially when it comes to pricing and offer, can bring a ton of value here as well.

Since you mentioned budget is one of the main primary concerns. Is it even a process much more affordable? How exactly does that depend?

Yeah, it varies depending on the needs of the client. But after 10 years of experience, I can say that the average assignment is about a day a week. I spend about a day a week on each client, and I don’t take more than 2-3 clients at the same time because it takes a lot of mind space to work on one client. It’s very free in the relationship, whereas I committed a day a week, but I usually spend a couple of hours every day throughout the weeks to get to that. Then I build every month and I usually ask for a three-month commitment.

Got you. Pascal, are you working solo or do you have a few people working for you in the background?

No, I’m solo and it’s a choice that I made when I left the agency, whereas at the time it was J. Walter. Like a gigantic marketing firm based here in New York. There were too many other staff. I wanted to work very trust with the founders and the CEOs and bring the value that I can bring. If I don’t have the experience, I’m very transparent and I bring my network. I have a network of designers, but I don’t know how to design. I have a network of developers. I have a network of social media managers and so on, content writers. But they’re not employed by my company. Good to have a solo partner.

That’s brilliant. I was going through your site and I stumbled across the proprietary methodology that you have for helping entrepreneurs with their discovery as well as amplifying their unique talent and bringing the land back into the business community altogether. I would love to know about that proprietary methodology. How exactly does that work, please?

Yeah. The methodology that you see on my website is very generic. But what I realized over the years is that the process varies depending on where the company is. If the company is around launch, pre-launch, so seed up to maybe Series A, there’s one set of processes that I have and clear deliverables that I can bring to the table. It’s the same when you go to the next stage, which I call the growth stage around Series B, let’s say, and then around Series C and D, it’s the scale-up stage. But at the core of it, a little bit of what I was saying earlier, which is making sure that we align the positioning, the go-to-markets, the team, and so the marketing channels to the problem we’re trying to solve and where we can reach our target customer essentially. It’s a little bit of a loop where there’s always a starting point. Like the founder has a great idea, he’s identified a problem, and you might have an MVP, you might have tested the MVP with a couple of customers. Through that process, he learns that something is not clicking, they’re not buying, they don’t understand the method, and so on.

I use my process to refine the go-to-market positioning and channels as we go. As you can imagine, the more budgets, the more intense that loop goes, and the more in-depth it goes as well. You can bring more resources when you can develop nice content marketing to support your message, it’s all the more powerful.

Got you. What channels do you typically leverage for your clients for Oregon Mold traffic and what typically?

Exactly. It varies, obviously, by industry or B2C versus B, but there’s a little bit of a formula. But for me, everything starts with the destination, which is either the website where you’re going to capture the leads or turn the customer into a client or the app, work on web-driven businesses or app-driven businesses. That’s the starting point. From there, step one is SEO and SEM. This is where you get the best presence and the best return on investment. You can take time in the case of a CEO, but it’s worth it if you have the patience and put the right resources behind it. And then slowly but surely, you built around that core. Social media usually comes into play, organic, and then paid social, and then it depends. I’m working with a client in cybersecurity, obviously, the channels, quote-unquote, and what we’re going to develop are going to be different than if we’re working with a social media app. But there’s a foundation and then there are big components, as I mentioned, content marketing and event marketing can have a big influence in some cases, PR, depending on how new and interesting your solution is, and so on.

But because I’ve been on both the agency side and the startup side, I’ve seen it all in terms of tiny little budgets and gigantic budgets, like with HSBC or L’Oréal. I know how to build a funnel and I know the order in which you build a funnel so that you don’t start with TV advertising. If you don’t have a website, I’m obviously in pre-training, but I can have the plan and build that funnel.

That’s great. I’m not going to think you leverage so many channels and so many different strategies altogether. Typically, you either take the help of your freelance fleet altogether or train in-house Members.

Altogether, right?

Sometimes I work with agencies.

Sometimes you work with the agency.

Yeah, of course. Some agencies specialize in SEO, SEM, paid social, and so on. If the expertise is not within my network or internal to the client, then if the budgets are here, it makes sense to work with agencies.

They Bring an expertise that is hard to replace. I’ve been on the agency side, so I know the depth of expertise that exists in the channel or certain categories.

Let’s discuss some of the real-world examples of success with you. You have made a significant impact. Let’s take a start because that’s something that you don’t have much branding and they go to marketing strategy or to care.

Yeah, so I can use a very recent example, like a current client I mentioned earlier. The name is models.com. It’s not models the shoes, models as in modeling. It’s a platform for the fashion industry, essentially, that connects anyone who works in fashion with the agencies, the modeling agency, the hairstyling agency, anything you can, and so on. Then the brands, the L’Oréal, the Gucci, and so on. That platform has been around for more than 20 years. When I joined about six, or eight months ago, they had an amazing foundation of content. The editorial was very strong. They had a small offering, like a membership offering for their viewers, for their visitors. They are like a somewhat strong offering for the agency. Essentially, the mandate for me was to help them monetize the platform better. I started with the membership. I dig into the data; I try to understand who were the user segments that were most likely to use the platform or that were using the platform the most. Then we devised the pricing strategy and a typical SaaS strategy where you have a free plan, like a preferred plan on the premium plan, and we implemented that.

After only four months, we doubled the revenue. I didn’t do it by myself, but I think the platform was great to start with. The value was there. It was just not being exploited.

On a different scale, the job before that. That was actually during the pandemic. I was SVP Marketing at Rokt. Rokt is an e-commerce technology at Checkouts. I joined when they were just raising their Series C, helped them go to Series D, and contributed to doubling their revenue from 80 million ARR to 160 million ARR, so on a very different scale. I didn’t do it by myself. There was a strong team in place, a strong product team, and a strong sales team. But what I did was build the marketing team and bring it all together, really thinking about how we improve our story to the market. How do we deploy an awareness channel? Then how do we funnel all of that through the website, a lead system that makes sense, and then to the sales team for them to convert? Two very extreme examples, but with success.

In your experience, what are the common misconceptions or gaps that the founders have about marketing? And how can we bridge those gaps?

That’s a good question. I see two. One is sometimes you have founders that have a good sense for marketing and consumers and messaging and all of this. They don’t think they need a CMO or a marketer, and it’s all about executing the idea. Sometimes they’re right, but sometimes they’re wrong, or sometimes they have blind spots. That’s one that I see not often, but it’s common. The only way to overcome this is to build trust in the relationship and then show them a different perspective. Because I’ve worked in different industries, as I said, B2B, B2C, and very different graph tickles from fashion to cybersecurity, I can use real-life examples of different plans and say, this worked for that plan. The challenge is not dissimilar to yours. The category it might be, but the challenge is not. That’s one challenge that I face sometimes. The other one is when the founder or the founders are product people or tech people, and they know that they don’t know marketing, so they’re happy to have you on board, but they don’t know where to start. They don’t know if they want to put the cart before the horse and so on.

You have to help them be somewhat methodical about it and understand that some of it is going to appear quickly, like the bottles that come example. Some of it takes time, ASEC time, and so on. Lots of education in those cases.

Got you. Because you’re working in the client’s team as well, and that’s something a co-part of the job. Can you share some insights or best practices for building and managing effectively these cross-functional marketing teams, especially for start-ups?

Yeah, so they tend to be smaller than on the agency side. When I was on the agency side, I had up to 50 people on my team. That was more challenging because it’s a lot of people, number one, and number two, it’s a lot of different disciplines, from creative to analytics. You have to use different parts of your brain to communicate with all these disciplines. On the tech startup side, the challenge is to do a lot with very little. The best way to align the team is to talk about the objective, to remind them of the mission of the company, the financial objective, the marketing objective, and have a set of KPIs that’s easy to understand that we can track, that we can report on, that we can be proud of, that we can impact more importantly. The KPI-driven discussion usually takes the emotion out of the discussion and allows everyone to focus on what’s going to have an impact essentially.

Got it. do you use any project management, or task management tool with you or recommended to your customers?

Yeah, I tend to be allergic to those, but that ends up because we tend to always use them on the agency side. I go with the flow. If my clients use Trello, I’m going to use Trello or if they use Notion, I’m going to use Notion, but I’m not the one driving. That would be a little bit of a waste of my time to project manage. I partner with the client to make sure that there’s an understanding that I’m a contributor more than a manager. I’m tool-agnostic. I learn as I go. I’m very curious about new products and new tech. If there’s a better product like Trello, I’ll be happy to use it tomorrow, and the other day, and so on.

Yeah, even I am a big fan of Trello.

Are you?

Yeah, definitely. I used Many tools

It works.

Let me come to this final question for you. What advice would you offer to tech startup founders who are contemplating engaging in a fractional CMO but are unsure of the benefit of the process altogether?

Yeah, I think it’s about a couple of things. One is building trust that’s on both sides and being very transparent about what you know what you don’t and what you expect or so. If you don’t know what you need or if you don’t know what you don’t know, just say it and we’ll have a discussion. That would be one. Two is, because it’s somewhat of a new way of working, having a fraction of the time of a person, I think it’s important to establish boundaries, milestones, I would say. Oftentimes, I recommend or suggest that we start with a small project. Okay, you want to do this campaign? Let’s do this campaign together. See if we enjoy working with each other. If we decide to bring value to you and the communication is working. This is my advice, but there’s a reason why we see so many fractional people these days that it’s a nice lifestyle for me. No question. I enjoy going from one child to the next, one industry to the next, but it’s also a win for everyone. It does work. It’s cheaper than hiring a full-time CMO.

It’s cheaper than hiring a full-time junior team than hiring an agency, and it brings results. It’s in my interest to make the client happy and to show results because that’s the only way we’re going to continue in our relationship. I think you have to trust that it’s growing. The industry is growing because it’s working.

Makes sense. All right, Pascal, I would love to have a quick rapid-fire with you. That’s typically what we do in the end, so are you ready for that?

How does it work?

I’ll be asking you random quick questions.

Okay. Let’s try. I’m not good at that, but I’ll try.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received at work?

Another rapid-fire guide.

You know what? This is my wild observation. Whenever I speak to someone, who comes from an agency background, they are very quick. Whenever I talk to a CMO, I just ask them, they take so much time to ask. And because you’re in the middle of the ground.

So- I’m in between, yeah. I would say taking the long view was good advice, especially when your client is facing it. On the agency side, I was client-facing. I was the one solving the problem between the agency and the clients. Sometimes you get in two little sights. No, you have to take the long view. What’s good for the client? What’s good for the agency? And move forward.

What one word do you want people to associate you with?

Smart. I hate that word. Impactful.

What was the last Google search?

Last Google search? Most likely the best series on HBO.

 

Okay. What is not a big deal to most people, but is torture to you?

Bad grammar or punctuation.

What is your hidden talent?

Struggle with my French accent.

I’m coming to the very last question. What never fails to make you laugh?

I don’t know. You, See it work

Thank you, Pascal. Thank you so much for all the time, all the wisdom that you shared, and all the information you shared about your business. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Yeah, no, thank you. These were very great questions.

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