GrowthAssistant was founded by Adriane Schwager and Jesse Pujji in February of 2021. They help startups and direct-to-consumer brands accelerate the growth of their businesses faster by offering full-time embedded offshore employees to handle the manual tasks of marketing campaign management, design and reporting. This enables the in-house team to focus on higher level strategy and execution.
I first learned about GrowthAssistant in May of 2021, when I stumbled across a Twitter thread from Jesse. It had been 100 days since he'd co-founded GrowthAssistant with Adriane and he shared some of the early story.
What grabbed me about their story was that Jesse said the idea for the company had been sitting on his list for years, but he'd struggled to find the right co-founder to run it with him. As he put it, they had to be someone "who knew HR, recruiting, people, ops and [had] the hunger of a first time entrepreneur."
He then connected with Adriane, but Adriane wasn't a random acquaintance on the internet. They had been close friends since middle school. Jesse was in her wedding party. In early 2021, she had been considering starting a daycare because she had a few real estate clients that were daycares and understood them from an operational point of view. She also had spent 10 years in people operations at a trading firm.
A week after Jesse pitched her the idea, Adriane said "I'm in" and they got started.
Their early results were impressive. In less than 30 days they signed their first deal. By day 100 they had $50k in monthly recurring revenue and counted DoorDash, Noom, Varsity Tutors, Candid and several others as clients. I was excited to speak with Adriane to understand how she approached scaling up the business so quickly.
In our conversation, Adriane talks about:
My questions are in bold; this interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Can you give me a quick overview of the founding story?
Adriane Schwager: Jesse and I are childhood friends. We should start there. He was in my wedding party when I got married. We are very close. Near the end of 2020, we were both at a similar place in our careers and were brainstorming what the next step was.
We both knew that we wanted to start businesses, but we weren’t sure what they might be. It’s important to Jesse that when you start a business you leverage your unfair advantage.
I have a background in people operations and real estate. I also have children. When considering my unfair advantage I began to think about starting a daycare. I have a few real estate clients that were daycares so I understood them from an operational standpoint. I was also tinkering with the idea of helping businesses downsize from a real estate perspective.
Anyways, Jesse and I kept talking about different ideas and Jesse pitched me GrowthAssistant. He said that this was the perfect way to leverage both of our unfair advantages. The people ops side was my genius and the growth marketing sphere was his. So it was really about us having those two main components that were needed to create GrowthAssistant.
It seems like the first version of your product could be a simple landing page for companies and then you could do the matching manually. What was your approach to building the initial product and was there anything you spent a lot of time on that turned out not to matter that much?
AS: The first step was to figure out hiring in the Philippines, that’s where our talent is based and we wanted to make sure we were being compliant. We also spent time on the website. This is one of the things I wish I had spent less time on. We had a few different versions, we were trying to get it perfect…or I was trying to. Eventually we just put it up, it was time to go. When you're starting something up analysis paralysis can happen and sometimes you need to have the “do it” mentality.
When it came to designing the website, I started digging further and further. First it was we needed branding, okay, now we needed a font and it kept going. No, no, let’s just make this much more simplistic. It was important to realize it will never be in a final state, it will evolve as the business evolves.
In terms of what type of talent we offer companies, we started with two roles, the digital marketing assistant and the graphic designer. We have expanded our offering far beyond that. When deciding which roles to offer on our platform we’ve followed the customer journey. So anything from acquiring a customer, such as sales development or email marketing to business operations and then customer success.
So before you officially launched, did you go find and train talent for those two initial roles and onboard them or was your approach to get signed contracts with companies first?
AS: This is something where we were uniquely positioned. Jesse knew we had interest from companies because he had already talked to his network and had a shortlist of people that had told him, “yes, sign me up yesterday!”
Based on that shortlist of likely clients we got the talent hired. I stayed really close to those first clients, meeting with them regularly and getting feedback. In the beginning, that's how you learn. You learn from your customer.
On the flip side of it, we also paid close attention to the talent from the Philippines as if they are our customer as well. This is a career opportunity for them. They also care about things that would be important to U.S. based employees, things like benefits and career progression. You have to pay equal attention to both of your customers.
Yes, marketplaces can be challenging in that sense. It’s very important to keep an eye on both sides of it.
Now, I’m assuming you’ve used your own product. When it comes to your company, what have you found to be the most helpful part of your offering?
AS: Everything! I have GAs doing recruiting, another on the HR side helping with facilitation, payroll, etc. Now we’ve added a sales rep, sales assistant, and marketing assistant as well. This month, I’m launching an HR Manager, Customer Success Manager, Business Operations Assistant, Marketing Lead, and additional recruiting roles. I’m growing as fast as I can to keep up with demand.
Wow, that’s a lot of people! How about with the startups that you work with, is there a mistake that you’ve seen a lot of them make when it comes to hiring and growth?
AS: Yes, there are a couple that stick out. One is that sometimes our clients think they only need part time help. Our standard package is $2,500 per month for one full-time Growth Assistant - 40 hours a week. Often a client feels that they can only fill 30 hours a week. Even at 30 hours that is still a really good deal. But more importantly, if your business is young, you will find more ways to use that Growth Assistant, especially as they learn more about your business.
A large part of my job is coaching and helping a company that has never outsourced before. In our partner portal we give them best practices for delegating to make sure their tasks are super easy to follow and have clear deadlines. Looking back, this is something that I wasn’t as prepared for. We didn’t realize how much we’d need to train the companies to make sure they got the most out of their growth assistant and were successful.
How did you realize that you needed to spend more time on the coaching or training part of the business?
AS: It starts with the Growth Assistants. We're talking to them regularly and we’ll hear from them when they feel like they are being underutilized. We began to notice that there's a pattern here - clients of a certain size or someone that’s never used offshore help. Often it’s a small bootstrapped customer with only a few people and no one has time to delegate.
So we began to get more involved with these types of clients and really train them to take the time to document and build up the onboarding materials for the Growth Assistant.
We also identified a need for these small teams to create templates. For example, the marketing manager needs a template for the Growth Assistant to work quickly and effectively. We found they didn't have those templates and they didn't have the time to make those templates. So we took it upon ourselves to make those templates. So all of these templates or playbooks are available to our partners as well. For example, if you're launching a Facebook ad, we’ve created a template to be populated and then approved by the marketing manager.
Interesting, I imagine those playbooks are pretty valuable to the companies. What's been the most challenging part about the past year?
AS: Work life balance has been a challenge. Also, as I'm building something it gets to the point where I become the bottleneck. Once I realize that I then hire somebody to help with that bottleneck, but for me the learning curve has been figuring out how to hire somebody before I become the bottleneck. So I am getting better at planning and looking forward.
You know, another challenge came from Twitter. Jesse tweeted about why we started the company and it got a lot of attention. Our waitlist went from 14 to 250 within a few days. I was the only salesperson, so it took me a couple of months to chip away at those leads. But the longer I drew that out, the less likely they were to convert to meeting with me. I got some good data on how long someone's willing to stay on the waitlist before they lose interest, so I've learned from it.
I suppose that’s a good problem to have in some respects. Good to hear that you learned how to better manage the waitlist.
Okay, now a quick fire round at the end. Short, less than a minute answers. What do you know now that you wish you'd known a year ago?
AS: That selling will feel a lot more like consulting. My sales calls feel a lot more like I'm helping people than I'm trying to sell them something. I'm listening to their challenges and figuring out, what can I do to help fix that problem for them.
Interesting, is that because you changed how you sell or that your viewpoint of what selling is has changed?
AS: I think I had a different viewpoint because when I was setting up all the systems for the business, I had a lot of sales calls. I was dreading them because listening isn't always there - on the other side of the call. I was surprised at how bad actually some of those sales processes were for some of the systems that we ended up going forward with. So my view on what my sales experience would be like was influenced by those initial calls - I knew what my sales process wouldn’t look like.
What book do you recommend the most and why?
AS: It's called, “The Great CEO Within” by Matt Mochary. It’s for people thinking about building a team and building a business. The author compiles a bunch of best practices into one book. If you wanted to dive deeper into a specific one, like conscious leadership, you’d need to get another book. But this book gives you a rough overview of many different practices.
Is there any best practice in particular that has really resonated with you or that you’ve focused on trying to develop?
AS: 2022 is the first year for annual planning. Last year everything was more of an experiment. So this year we have a much better idea of our capacities and what we can do. I’m using some of the OKRs, KPIs and areas of responsibilities sections from the book to help me goal set and communicate effectively with the team. It's important goals are translated to everyone in the company, and equally important their voices are heard and that they are bought into the plan.
Also, I recently used the radical candor approach to feedback that the book outlined. I wanted feedback on myself from my staff and I’m trying to bake that into our culture.
What are you most proud of from the past year?
AS: There are two things. The first is the Growth Assistant community that we’ve built. It’s a great support system for the 130 remote Growth Assistants that we have. It has a truly amazing culture, people can ask questions and get help in two minutes. There are even members who are starting to travel and meet up together. People just exchanged holiday gifts with one another in a secret gift exchange. I’m really proud of the community that we’ve built in such a short amount of time.
I’m also really proud of how we’ve helped our clients scale. Being able to see companies leverage our talent to move quickly and launch new growth strategies that impact their businesses positively.
Final question, what's your advice to an entrepreneur that is considering starting a company in 2022?
AS: Just do it and jump in. There will always be a reason not to, but just do it and jump in. I'm lucky that I have Jesse, who was always chanting that to me, and giving me encouragement to take that step. I’m very much the personality type that has everything buttoned up. I's dotted t's crossed and this has been a step outside my comfort zone.
I encourage everyone to take that step. If you're talking about starting your entrepreneurial journey for more than a few months, then you just need to jump in and start. Take the first step.
I totally agree! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
I hope you enjoyed my interview with Adriane and learned a few things. If you did, give it some love on Twitter with a RT or Like. This helps more people discover my newsletter 😊 -Tyler