Yuriy Timen was Global Head of Marketing and Growth at Grammarly, and is now a full-time growth advisor, having worked with more than a dozen companies, including Canva, Airtable, Whimsical, Otter.ai, Oyster, Flo Health, and Clay. In today’s episode, Yuriy discusses the ever-changing world of growth, emerging growth tactics, and how to find your growth engine. You’ll learn the most effective strategies for driving user acquisition, how to balance and diversify organic and paid channels, when it’s time to change plans, how to vet new growth channel opportunities, and much more.
Where to find Yuriy Timen:
• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/yuriytimen/
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/thetimenator
Where to find Lenny:
• Newsletter: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/lennysan
• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennyrachitsky/
Thank you to our wonderful sponsors for making this episode possible:
• Flatfile: https://www.flatfile.com/lenny
• Modern Treasury: https://www.moderntreasury.com/
• Eppo: https://www.geteppo.com/
• Casey Winters: https://www.linkedin.com/in/caseywinters/
• Elena Verna: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elenaverna/
• Lyka Pet Food: https://lyka.com.au/
• Ethan Smith’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ethanls/
• Graphite: https://www.graphitehq.com/
• Recast: https://getrecast.com/
• Measured: https://www.measured.com/
• INCRMNTAL: https://www.incrmntal.com/
• Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less: https://www.amazon.com/Essentialism-Disciplined-Pursuit-Greg-McKeown/dp/0804137382/
• Man’s Search for Meaning: https://www.amazon.com/Mans-Search-Meaning-Viktor-Frankl/dp/0807014273/
• The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz: https://www.amazon.com/Splendid-Vile-Churchill-Family-Defiance/dp/0385348711/
• The All-In Podcast: https://www.allinpodcast.co/
• Hustle: https://www.netflix.com/title/80242342
• Mark Fiske at H.I.G.: https://higgrowth.com/team/mark-fiske/
In this episode, we cover:
[03:49] Yuriy’s background
[09:46] Different paths to growth for subscription-based products
[13:21] When to lean into virality
[15:39] What are network effects?
[16:32] SEO strategy and timeline: how long can it take to see results?
[24:22] The shifting landscape of paid media
[28:09] The return of media mix modeling
[32:01] How can you tell if media spending equates to business results?
[33:44] Don’t spread yourself too thin
[36:01] How to tell if you’ve taken a strategy far enough
[38:02] When to lean into a strategy that’s working vs. when to think about diversification
[42:13] Is there a shift from growth to survival?
[46:19] Two reasons to do paid media
[56:45] Why you shouldn’t dismiss TikTok (and other channels you might be overlooking)
[59:36] Lightning round!
Production and marketing: https://penname.co/
Yuriy Timen (00:00:00):
The only thing that's worse than a channel or a tactic that you tried not working. The only thing that's worse now is when you didn't give it the appropriate shot, right? And you prematurely were erroneously concluded that it doesn't work and it's remarkable how often you find that to be the case when I talk to companies, "Oh, YouTube, we tried it. It doesn't work." I'm like, "Okay, can I see what you've tried?" And then you look at it and you're like, "Oh, this thing was not designed to even have a shot at working from the get go."
Yuriy Timen is a full-time advisor to companies looking to figure out their growth strategy. He's worked with companies like Canva, Airtable, Otter, Whimsical, Hims, Flow Health, and a dozen others. I know a number of founders who have worked with Yuriy and they all tell me that he transformed how they think about their growth. Before becoming an advisor, he spent nine years at Grammarly where he led growth in marketing and helped turn that into the household name that it is today.
In our chat, we get incredibly tactical about all of the ways that you can grow your product, including when and how to invest in virality, SEO, and paid growth. What's changing across each of those channels and the most common failure modes for B2C startups. This is the most tactical and actionable conversation I have had yet on how to grow your product, particularly a subscription product. And I'm really excited for you to hear it. With that I bring you Yuriy Timen.
Hey, Ashley, head of marketing and Flat File. How many B2B SAS companies would you estimate B to import CSV files from their customers?
At least 40%?
And how many of them screw that up and what happens when they do?
Well, based on our data, about a third of people will consider switching to another company after just one bad experience during onboarding. So if your CSV importer doesn't work right, which is super common, considering customer files are chalk full of unexpected data and formatting they'll leave.
I am 0% surprised to hear that. I've consistently seen that improving onboarding is one of the highest leverage opportunities for both signup, conversion and increasing long term retention. Getting people to your aha moment more quickly and reliably is so incredibly important.
Totally. It's incredible to see how our customers like Square, Spotify, and Zuora are able to grow their businesses on top of flat file. It's because flawless data onboarding acts like a catalyst to get them and their customers where they need to go faster.
If you'd like to learn more or get started, check out Flat File at flatfile.com/lenny.
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Yuriy, welcome to the podcast.
Yuriy Timen (00:03:52):
Thanks for having me man. This is great.
It's even better for me.
Yuriy Timen (00:03:57):
So I'm going to give a quick bio. Let me know if I missed anything really important. You were head of growth at Grammarly. You spent nine years there kind of doing all the things that helped turn that company into the killer product that it is today. You left that I think a couple years ago. Now you're advising companies mostly full-time. I think mostly on growth strategy. I think mostly consumer startups, is that about right?
Yuriy Timen (00:04:21):
A couple of super critical corrections. Number one, it was only eight and a half years.
Okay. Usually people round those up. I'm impressed that you get-
Yuriy Timen (00:04:31):
I think eight and a half is long enough. Yeah, not sure I want to round up. I know, but I'm kidding obviously. Yeah. That's largely it. Grammarly was a hell of a run and trying to take a step back from that, and stepping back has kind of taken on a life of its own vis a vis advising.
How many companies have you worked with at this point advised and what are some examples, just like companies people would know.
Yuriy Timen (00:05:01):
It's now been about, I guess two years and three months since my last day at Grammarly in an operating capacity. I've probably worked with maybe 15 companies in the last two and a little bit of years. Obviously, not all at once. It's usually four to five at any given point in time. But some of the ones that I've been really lucked out with in terms of getting aligned with companies like Canva, Airtable, Hims and Hers in the personal care space, there is otter.ai. Who else? Flow Health, the world's most downloaded period tracker.
I used that for my wife. It's handy.
Yuriy Timen (00:05:49):
Good, good. Yeah. I was trying to get my wife to try it out, but been unsuccessful.
You're failing in your growth.
Yuriy Timen (00:06:01):
She was like, "Are you trying to push me to having a third kid?" I was like, "No, no, I swear." This is just product testing.
Clever. So I've had Casey Winters on this podcast and Elena Verna. It's kind of like the three of you that it feels like have worked with the most companies as advisors. I don't know if there's some kind of contest y'all have or anything, but do you think about that at all? Is there anyone else out there that you think is in the running?
Yuriy Timen (00:06:26):
First of all, just being mentioned the same breath as those two is an accolade in and of itself. I mean, I look up to both of them. They've gone first. Also, I credit a lot of my getting started to both of them because they've been very generous with their time when I was just kind of considering advising, especially Casey, if they listen to this. Huge shine out to both of them, but Casey especially. He's such immense when it comes to just being generous with his time. So no, there is no competition, but had there been one, I suspect I'd be in lead right now because I've done it. I've done it in a shorter period of time. I'm much newer to advising than both of those, but no, I have a ton of aberration respect both of them. They're phenomenal what they do and I learned a ton from them.
I love that acceleration is fastest. Wow, sweet. So we're going to talk a lot about consumer growth strategies and your experience working with companies and a bunch of insights on things you've learned from working with companies. Before we get there just one quick question in your advising. I'm curious how many companies do you work with at once normally?
Yuriy Timen (00:07:43):
Yeah, so I play around with different quantities. So a couple of things. So you mentioned, you alluded to earlier that I advise full time. What I'll say is that mostly the only thing that I do right now professionally is advising, but it's not quite full time. I hard count my week at about three to three and a half days a week worth of work, which is a personal choice. And so that is a hard constraint that I'm working with. And within that constraint, I also feel like for me to do my best work and the work that I also enjoy the most and find the most fulfilling four to five companies is probably the max. If I try to go beyond that, the overhead that it creates in terms of the cost of context switching just becomes overwhelming. I feel like I'm not showing up as best as I can with each individual company.
As early plug or anti plug, depending on how you answer this. Are you looking for more companies to work with right now or are you just like, "Don't even try. I am so at capacity right now."?
Yuriy Timen (00:08:53):
I'm so at capacity right now. I've also just been very fortunate to always be at capacity. But I think for every four to five companies that I'm working with, think of it as a concentric circles, right? There are another, maybe 10 to a dozen companies that we're actively exploring if we want to work together in the future. And then there is another concentric circle so maybe 30 plus companies that I'm just friends with. So I'll take the plug. I'm always up for meeting Austin founders working on important problems.
Cool. Well, we're in the plug I guess. How do people find you online? What's your Twitter?
Yuriy Timen (00:09:34):
I mean, honestly, probably throw Lenny's podcast. That's one, but honestly LinkedIn is really the only place I'm pretty low key otherwise.
Okay, great. That was a lot of Meta stuff. So let's get into some meat stuff here. So you talked to a lot of consumer startups. You help them figure out how to grow, how to evolve their product, something I'm always curious about and I love your thoughts on is when you look at a consumer startup, I imagine there's a few archetypes of how they grow. I'm curious if that's a mental model you use when you're like, "Oh, I see company X. They're probably going to grow this way, and here's what they should focus on." How do you see that?
Yuriy Timen (00:10:11):
Great question. I think there are ways to answer that. My sweet spot is subscription properties and it's not just consumer. I do work with a lot of B2B companies. It's just that most of them, but what they all have in common is they lean into consumerized type of growth loops and growth motions. So they're very kind of self-serve nature or have meaningful self-serve engines. So if I think about subscription companies, I think there are probably a couple of buckets that I see them falling into. If you were able to nail your unit economics and you have really strong consumer LTVs, think Grammarly, think Canva. The single player LTVs for those companies are very, very high. They're kind of average S&B LTVs for B2B companies.
What's a number there just for folks to have a little context?
Yuriy Timen (00:11:06):
I'm not a liberty to speak to those, but we're talking in the hundreds of dollars. Most consumer subscription companies that are $5 to $7 a month. Their LTVs typically cap out at 50 to 60 bucks.
Yuriy Timen (00:11:26):
And so if you have really healthy LTVs, and that usually means that you're attracting a proconsumer buyer, so they may be single player, but they're using it for work. And so maybe they're dispensing it or just the perceived value so much higher that they're willing to bear that $120 and $130 a year subscription. If I'm seeing things like that and I'm seeing that you're converting seven, like five plus percent of your free users to a paid subscriber, then there is a big opportunity to play paid and lean into paid growth loops and paid acquisition loops. There is another archetype, which is if there are network effects for instance, you don't find that as much with single player consumer subscription companies, but obviously social media, consumer companies.
Yuriy Timen (00:12:17):
There may be a strong referral viral loop angle if the utility increases, the utility of the product increases, the more users are using it. Another archetype I see are companies that can lead into SEO very heavily, especially if there is a long tail programmatic angle. Take Canva for instance, their biggest initial growth loop and I think this is public knowledge was their long tail SEO strategy where any kind of design project that you could think of would search for designing. It's kind of two categories of keywords, make keywords and template keywords. So if you're searching for a template of any kind, a wedding invitation, yada yada, they had incredibly strong SEO and they were just capitalizing on all the long tail traffic. Not every product is going to lend itself to that, but I always look for that early on, because you can build incredible mold with that kind of strategy.
That makes sense. There's kind of like these three engines that you can tap into. I imagine the preference would be word of mouth reality and then if that isn't going to work SEO, and if that is going to work paid, maybe just to simplify it for listeners, what are kind of signals you can go after virality and invest in that and think that could work because every founder would be like, "Yes, virality. That's how I'm going to grow." Yeah.
Yuriy Timen (00:13:47):
Yeah. Honestly, the first thing you look for is that, is there inherent product network effects? It's something that it's either there, or isn't from inception from my experience. I think it's very difficult to manufacture. You'd only study when... It's very hard to manufacture product network effects if they aren't there from the get go. So Airbnb from your days, obviously marketplace very strong product network effect dynamics. You think of collaboration tools, Airtable, monday.com, Whimsical, whom we both know very strong inherent product network effects, contrast that with a company like Grammarly. It just wasn't there. It's not an inherently multiplayer task constructed communication. And so you can try to engineer that, but from my experience, it is an uphill battle. So if you have inherent product network effects, that's when I think layering on referral loops and viral loops. You think about what Dropbox has done around file sharing. That's an iconic example.
Yuriy Timen (00:15:02):
Then it's really powerful. I think that there is another case where referral and viral loops could work even when there are inherent network effects. If you have a really beloved product, beloved brand. There's a company out of Australia that I have opportunity to invest it called Laika. They do fresh dog food subscriptions and incredibly beloved brand, a premium product. And so they're able to lean into a give one, get one referrals, even though there isn't inherent product network effects, they're still able to generate meaningful results off of the, and incentivize referring program.
When you talk about network effects, what does that mean to you? How would you define that briefly?
Yuriy Timen (00:15:45):
Yeah, to me, I mean, honestly I define it I think probably a pretty quintessential way, which is for every individual user, the utility that they derive from the product increases the more users there are on the platform. The expanded version of that is in a case of marketplaces. It may not be the bore users broadly speaking, but the more users in the markets that you care about, in the case of collaboration tools, it's not the more users in abstract terms. It's the more users within your team, the more users within your company, right? That correlates with your kind of the rise in your utility curve.
Awesome. So if you have network effects, AKA if the product becomes more useful with more people or there's amazing word of mouth already, or there's collaboration, probably a good sign that you could lean into virality or maybe referrals. What about SEO?
Yuriy Timen (00:16:50):
Oh, that's a good one. It's a very timely question because I actually in a process of helping a couple of my companies figure out if it's the right time to invest in SEO. So I've been sort of a forefront of taking exploratory meetings with agencies and SEO consultants and things like that. I mean, I would say the first thing to figure... I mean, there are a couple of pillars, because obviously we all know that SEO has a different return horizon than say paid acquisition. It's longer out. It's maybe six months is the earliest you can see results. Even then it's going to be a small trickle that compounds over time, if you're successful or you may spend three to six months leaning into an SEO strategy and then realize that it's not going to back out typically at least in historically a company probably isn't like Series B before it starts feeling like it passed a luxury of making these kind of medium to long term investments.
Yuriy Timen (00:17:58):
But I think that's shifting right now, but that's maybe a topic for later or even for another bot but a lot of the strategies that I think we're reserved for Series B are trickling down to Series A companies because they have to diversify way for pay, but maybe more on that later. So I think with SEO, it's like the first pillar I would say is, do you have a unique angle when you take a look at the SEO landscape today, you look at editorial, the landscape, which is to how to searches and who are the players there and what kind of information is being offered? Do you have something unique to contribute to that conversation? Another thing if I have to do an audit checklist, another thing is, do you have a unique programmatic angle, right? For instance, Canva did dealt with templates. Who else is programmatic?
Yuriy Timen (00:18:54):
CWELL, Redfit, obviously all the real estate, right? That's really strong-
Yuriy Timen (00:19:01):
Saint Pier, right. So do you have a programmatic angle and then understanding the competitive landscape or the other one is, do you have a unique data angle? So for instance, a company I work with called Monarch Money, which is in the personal finance management space. Think of it as a new and improved version of MIT. There is a lot of users are connecting accounts and you have a sense percenting patterns and things like that. Clearly there is a unique data, and so it's a question of, can you turn it into some kind of valuable organic search experience?
Yuriy Timen (00:19:39):
I won't go into too much detail in terms of what we're thinking of there, but that's another checkbox. If you can check two of those three boxes as a back of the envelope framework, you may be in good shape. And then it's a question of like, "How can you lower the cost of experimentation SEO as much as possible?" I think as a rule of thumb, if you can time box it to three months, what can I do at the end of three months? Is this likely to work or not?
Awesome. Couple follow up questions.
Yuriy Timen (00:20:16):
One is SEO feels like this dark art where you need some SEO wizard to come help you through this.
Yuriy Timen (00:20:24):
Do you suggest companies find somebody or work with an agency or something else? What's your general feeling on SEO versus some other route?
Yuriy Timen (00:20:33):
I think SEO is pretty specialized skill set. There are some basic principles that always hold like best content wins and don't do shady back linking and make sure that you're on page. SEO is good and your pages are easily crawl, but I feel like everybody knows that. And where the winners are determined are between the lines. Better than a sports' analogy? Maybe you can.
Between the lines. I don't know what that comes from.
Yuriy Timen (00:21:15):
But anyway, what I mean is that there is a lot of more nuance, SEO developments and angles, where I think is where the opportunity really lies to differentiate yourself. And that requires keeping up with the latest algorithm changes. It's very hard to do that unless you are specializing in the art where the black magic of SEO, and so that's why I think getting an outside resource at least for an audit is really helpful. Now, whether it's a boutique agency or a solo consultant, I think that's more circumstantial, but I've found at least with the companies that I've worked with, if we wanted to quickly vet the SEO opportunity, I can do it in a very kind of amateur, at an amateur level.
Yuriy Timen (00:22:02):
Plug things into similar web and try to figure out the right option is there, but you can get these relatively inexpensive audits done from companies that you can then choose. Do I hire them to help with my SEO or not? But I think that audit is usually a very good use of time because they have templates. So what they can turn around for five to 10K would take you many, many human hours to try to pull together yourself.
Awesome. Are there agencies that you want to name that people can go check out or would you prefer just to keep it from having-
Yuriy Timen (00:22:35):
I'll give one plug.
Yuriy Timen (00:22:37):
I think one of the most innovative, disciplined first principles SEO thinkers and I have met is Ethan Smith from Graphite. It's not for everyone. It's a pretty high end SEO shell. So I wouldn't send the Series a company there, but Ethan also produces a lot of resources and what they've been focusing on at Graphite lately has been actually automating a lot of their work and turning it into SAS. So I don't know how far along they are, but you could probably already get into some of the betas from the tools that they're offering.
Sweet. I'm going to try to get Ethan on this podcast.
Yuriy Timen (00:23:20):
I've seen his stuff and it's awesome.
Yuriy Timen (00:23:23):
Yeah. He is a math scientist when it comes to SEO. Yeah.
We need those. We need math scientist on ship.
Yuriy Timen (00:23:28):
Okay. So we've talked about virality talked about SEO, paid. Imagine that's pretty straightforward if your LTV are high enough and you can pay back ads on those, then that's where you go. Imagine everyone can try it. Doesn't work for everyone. What if yeah, anything you want to add there?
Yuriy Timen (00:23:43):
I mean, there's a lot. There's a lot. I mean, I don't know how deep you want to go down the paid rabbit hole because it's changing. It's probably the most affected growth bucket in light of the market turbulence, the venture sentiment shifting. I've seen paying acquisition strategies at budgets. They are at the brunt of that fallout. And so the question is where do you want to go there?
Yeah. That's a really good topic. I was saving that for later, but let's chat it better right now.
Yuriy Timen (00:24:19):
I imagine part of this is Apple's tracking changes too.
Yuriy Timen (00:24:22):
So I guess my big question is paid still lucrative and a good path for many companies is like 50% of the time less effective. How do you see that shifting recently? And how should people think about paid in the consumer subscription startup?
Yuriy Timen (00:24:38):
Well, I think in the short term, let's break it down into phases. I think in the short term paid acquisition and just paid media dollars are contracted and we're seeing it already with Metas advertising revenue, Snaps advertising revenue. There's clearly a global contraction happening to paid media budgets. A big part of it is because all of a sudden the definition of efficient acquisition and good payback windows is shifting. So before for a consumer subscription company, 12 month payback was decent. Now it's like, you better pay back your paid media in six months or less. That's the sentiment.
Yuriy Timen (00:25:23):
So the thought is reaction is like anything that's more than six months we're well board of six months, we're cutting that and so there's that. Then there is just less tolerance for ambiguity and attribution when the sentiment is like, "Let's grow at [inaudible 00:25:38]. Grow at all costs." If you can't attribute things perfectly, that's okay. Now it's like, especially with venture back companies, you have to have two plus years of runway, managers burn a lot more diligently now. And so whatever you can't attribute to sales sue like, "That shits got to go." I don't know if we can curse on the pod or not.
Yuriy Timen (00:26:03):
Well, I've been holding back for the last 30 minutes. No, I'm kidding.
Yuriy Timen (00:26:04):
We're not kid friendly, but nobody's cursed yet. So this could be okay. So you'll be the first.
Yuriy Timen (00:26:09):
All right. Way loud. All right. But anyways, yeah. So I think there is a short term contraction. However, that opens up an opportunity for smart kind of attribution investments. So you're seeing an emergence of some interesting attribution related attribution for incrementality related products. A couple that I personally started exploring and looking into, and then you just see a lot more heads of growth, heads of user acquisition, thinking about attribution in building their attribution stacks. And so I think that once we settle into some kind of new normal, which is going to be a combination of just better attribution stack on average for companies combined with just the level of acceptance, that attribution will never be as good as it maybe once was. We're going to probably get hit. Come out of that and you'll see paid budgets start making their way back. But even right now, during contraction, there are going to be some winners.
Yuriy Timen (00:27:26):
The companies that had strong cash positions, have strong unit economics, strong paid back periods already like Grammarly, Canva to name two that I know personally. A couple of others or many others probably, they're going to be winners because all of a sudden, if previously they were competing with companies who were nowhere as efficient as them, but for whatever reason had the green light to keep spending, now all of those are going to pull back their budgets. And so those that have been disciplined, have the instrumentation to track things better than average. They're going to benefit from decreased competition on app platforms, decreasing CPMs, et cetera. So they're going to do winners for sure.
Wow. Haven't heard this perspective. It's so interesting that the fact that it's gotten harder, it's creating new opportunities for companies to do it better and more intelligently. You said you mentioned a couple tools products that you found to be potentially helpful in this. Is there anything you could mention there?
Yuriy Timen (00:28:22):
Yeah. Yeah. I mentioned a couple that I've kind of connected with in the last couple of months. So first of all, Media Mix Modeling is making a comeback, which is something that kind of got popularized in the math meant kind of advertising era of the fifties, pre-digital, and that's how that was the piece of the methodology. I can't speak of the specifics there. The science is a little bit out of depth there, but it was basically a way to use some data to determine a budget allocation across channels at the time was probably newspapers and billboards, et etcetera.
Yuriy Timen (00:29:03):
It was leveraging data to some extent. You would were doing it maybe on a quarterly basis. And then you would only update it every quarter. There was no way with media mix modeling. There was no way to adjust budget in quarter because you weren't getting the data feedback loop that frequently. But media mix modeling is now making a comeback because there are so many offline channels that are part of folks channel portfolio today and that plus a lot of the online channels are becoming less trackable like Meta for instance, with the iOS 14 shift. And so Media Mix Modeling is going to comeback and the company that's leading the charge of bringing the Media Mix Modeling methodology of the traditional advertising era and ushering it into the digital world is a company called the Recast.
Yuriy Timen (00:29:48):
Recast. Yeah. So I've heard really good things. I haven't tried them with any of my companies yet, but there are a couple that are on the horizon hopefully.
Double click there for a moment. Is that still useful if you're not doing TV and other forms of advertising?
Yuriy Timen (00:30:04):
I think it's still-
You're just doing-
Yuriy Timen (00:30:04):
Yeah, I think it's useful if you're spending a considerable amount, what's considerable, I'd say worth of a hundred thousand a month update media. And if you have some level of channel complexity, so you're not just like a Google Go or a Facebook, but maybe you're on three plus the channels. Then I think it still makes sense. The other ones in the incremental space, they have very different methodologists actually, because at end of the day, this might be obvious to folks, but maybe some will find value.
Yuriy Timen (00:30:34):
Click based attribution or the digital attribution were all fawning over cookie based and click based, a real parameter based attribution. It never demonstrated a causal relationship between our media spend and business results. It was only good for correlative insights. And the only way to determine causality is through real controlled experiments, randomized control experiments through incrementality testing, which is typically really hard to do cleanly and also companies have always been often wary about doing it because you have to turn off a channel potentially in a key demo and you're like, "Yeah." The benefit is to learning of whether it's actually incremental, but the cost or the sales that I will lose today. But the only way to really know how effective your paid media is through ongoing incrementality testing. So there are two companies that are addressing that. Two that I'm excited about. One is measured, can be found, measured.call, amazing domain name.
Amazing domain name, go with that.
Yuriy Timen (00:31:45):
And then the other one is incremental, but incremental-
Yuriy Timen (00:31:51):
... no vows except the last A between the T and the L.
Excellent, great job.
Yuriy Timen (00:31:58):
So many free plugs today.
Yeah. I love it. That's great. This is what people need. They're just like, "Okay, what do I actually do"? And so the more it's clear what to actually try and how to solve these problems. The more people can actually make change. I had a couple questions here that I wanted to follow up on. One is founders might be listening to this and they're like, "Amazing. Okay, we're going to grow. There's three ways to grow. Let's do it all. Get someone on SEO to get Jane on paid. Let's get Fred on virality."
Yuriy Timen (00:32:32):
So in your experience, is it smart to focus on one and then expand down the road or try them all see which one works best? How do you advise companies think about these options?
Yuriy Timen (00:32:44):
I would say focus paired with rapid iterations, right? With limited resources. Naturally you have to practice some form of essentialism and ruthless prioritization, but at the same time, the clock is always ticking. You can not burn. That there is a finite number of tries that you have at finding what works, right? What's going to help you unlock the next level of growth, get to the next funding round, extend your runway. And so I think either one taking to an extreme focus or trying multiple things is not a good thing. And just in case, it's not obvious if you focus on one thing and it ends up being the wrong thing, you've wasted really valuable time and now you have so much less time left to find something that does work. Spreading yourself very thin oftentimes in the early stage companies, it's one person who's in charge of all of growth, but they also have some other kind of responsibilities like maybe ops and customer success.
Yuriy Timen (00:33:54):
If you get them to try five different things, they may not try them anyone individually fully enough, because I like to say the only thing that's worse than a channel or a tactic that you tried not working. The only thing that's worse now is when you didn't give it the appropriate shot and you pretty much surely or erroneously concluded that it doesn't work. And it's remarkable how often you find that to be the case when I talk to companies, "Oh, YouTube, we tried it doesn't work." I'm like, "Okay, can I see what you've tried?" And then you look at it and you're like, "Oh, this thing was not designed to even have a shot at working from the get go." So to answer your question, I think it's focus with some guard rails so that you know exactly when it's time to move on to the next thing.
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This might be too hard to answer in a chat like this, but do you have any guidance for how to know when you've gone far enough? I imagine there's a lot nuance and detail there. Is there anything that you could share?
Yuriy Timen (00:36:12):
Love the question. It's very thought provoking. I think with some tactics and some channels you can fairly objectively create some test guard rails where it's like, if it's YouTube, we know kind of minimum number of impressions that you got to get. Try two to three creative angles. Here's the click through rates range that you're looking for. If you get within these ranges on these KPIs, keep going. If you don't, abandon.
Yuriy Timen (00:36:48):
I think that's important to also know that abandonment doesn't mean we will never revisit it again, right? It just means that because every time you're evaluating, the concept of sunk cost. So you have these periodic, I think periods of reevaluation where it's like, "Okay, did we try enough? Is this more art than science frankly." It's like, "What's the incremental lift for us as a team to try to experiment with the next phase of this channel or this tactic? What is the opportunity cost of that? What are the other high profile things that we could be trying?" You were right and save this topic too hard to answer in this format, but I would break things down maybe into two types. There are some channels or tactics where you can objectively figure out som guard rails for when it's showing promise or not, because you can pull benchmarks on good click through rates and things like that. Then there are other tactics where you just have to exercise more judgment outside of benchmarks.
Yeah. Yeah. That was actually really valuable and very challenging question to try to summarize quickly so thank you. One more quick question along these lines. So you talked about these three broad ways companies grow. Oftentimes a couple of them work, something I've seen and I'm curious if you agree, usually one is like 80% of your growth and then you layer on a couple more to optimize. Is that what you see?
Yuriy Timen (00:38:18):
Yes. I think companies that we know and admire and reference in case studies or in podcast, such as this one. From the outside looking in, you oftentimes assume that it's a highly diversified growth engine. I have to say it's often not the case. Definitely the 80/20 applies. There is a kind of strategy that's working overwhelmingly well, and there is a scramble internally to minimize reliance on that one thing. And on the discover slash on the walk, the next step function, the next growth horizon. In the case of Grammarly, it was performance marketing kind of over reliance on performance marketing during part of the company's life cycle. And so it was like, "Okay, this thing is working." It's efficient so you don't want to stop pouring fire on it, but you're also thinking months and years ahead, what kind of risk does it open you up to?
Yuriy Timen (00:39:35):
And so there is a scramble to fight and at Grammarly, it's been successful there. With Canva, it was the SEO angle. So for them, that was working really well, which is more defensible than paid. That's sort of long tail programmatic SEO angle, but look, you're always susceptible to Google algorithm updates and so how do you derisk yourself from that? But to your point, yes. And I think that surprising thing to people probably is that it's also the case with some later stage companies. It's not just early stage companies that are kind of one trick pulleys. Sometimes it's later stage companies as well.
This makes me think about is there's kind of these three phases to growth. There's the kickstart phase where you're just doing a bunch of stuff, trying to get things moving. Then there's that you discover your first main growth engine and then there's layer on additional engines because you want to diversify.
Yuriy Timen (00:40:25):
Yep. And one interesting, what I believe is an interesting period and a lot of it is gut feel, right? And I try to direct companies. I encounter sometimes early stage companies is when one thing is working well and they're already worried about over reliance and they're starting to talk about diversification and I come in all the times and I see showing up in their OKRs. I come, "No, no. Too early. I'm glad that you're such a forward thinker. Put all of your energy. Sure, this one tactic is accounting for say 80 plus percent of your new user acquisition, but your user acquisition is still small. So don't get distracted with diversification. We'll get there. Lean more into this, hit this growth rates, stand this up. Build this into a real strategic advantages thing that's working."
Yuriy Timen (00:41:18):
So I actually have to talk them out, focusing on diversification too early. Contrast that with some later stage companies for who are... At scale, I know 50 plus million ARR, 90 plus percent reliant on a single acquisition channel, which just mire with risk and diversification is a blind spot for them. And then with those, I have to be like, "Hey y'all. Here's the risk that you're carrying. Let's start carving out bandwidth resources to try to go and explore these other channels with tactics."
That's such an important point. It reminds me Casey has this hilarious line that he uses that the money's always in the banana stand or there's always more money in the banana stand from [inaudible 00:41:59] development. That basically your growth is probably going to come from the same place it's already come from.
Yuriy Timen (00:42:03):
And that you shouldn't take that for granted. And you should put most of your efforts into continuing to optimize that versus being distracted by, "Oh, let's do SEO now."
Yuriy Timen (00:42:11):
I see that argument for sure.
So you mentioned at this point about how later stage growth strategies are starting to move earlier into growth strategy planning. I'd love to hear more on that.
Yuriy Timen (00:42:22):
Yeah. Let me expand on that in the world that we lived in last 18 months, or let's say up until say three to five months ago. We were living in a world where funding was abundant and plentiful, startups were conditions to think that they could raise twice a year. Valuations were quite toppling within a year. You raise in January and then you raise in November and your valuation five X. And so companies were coming off of these ridiculous Series As of 15 to 25 million dollar As and they were like, "We got to grow as quickly as possible. What can we activate to give us immediate return?" And the answer is almost always paid. That one going to give you, especially if you're think you want to go back to raising less than 12 months later, that forces you to focus on very kind of short term tactics, short payoff tactics.
Yuriy Timen (00:43:28):
And so things that SEO, there was no room to think about that for early stage companies. Because payoff is going to come maybe in 12 months in terms of meaningful payoff. We care about getting to the next round and maximizing our valuation between now and then. SEO is for the grown up companies. When we're that we could think about it. And they were getting the reinforcement from everywhere, from peers, from VCs. It's like it's growth, growth, growth. The growth at any cause.
Yuriy Timen (00:44:02):
I think what happened now and we'll see where things stabilized because I think we're still in the midst of a little bit of chaos. What's happening now is the same VCs are saying, "Okay, it's now survival." You have to extend your runway, minimize burn, high burning if you have to. And all of a sudden growth, whether explicitly or via inference becomes kind of a secondary objective, especially for all these companies that are far from being cash flow positive. They have to figure out how to stay alive, but not have to go back to the market and be sort of a victim of shitty terms. And so I feel this is me extrapolating because venture capitalist didn't actually tell me this, but I'm extrapolating that growth is a secondary objective now. It's really focusing on sustainability due to economics, accepting your runway control your destiny, getting to default life.
Yuriy Timen (00:45:00):
And all of a sudden it's like, "Okay. Plus paid is a lot less attractive now. Can't afford to be acquiring users at like LTV cap one to one." That's now a no-no. And so SEO is now becoming more attractive because once you got your burn under control and you're thinking, "Okay, we saved all this money by reducing our paid budget. We're cutting it entirely. How do we put some of those resources back to work?" And all of a sudden SEO starts looking a lot more lucrative because it's almost like you took the urgency of grow at any cost in the next six months, you took that out of the equation. So now it's like we're in a position where we don't have to go back to raising 12, 18, 24 months. We have 18, 24 months worth of runway and now companies are starting to think more in terms of building more sort of sustainable and defensible growth initiatives.
Fascinating. And as much as people may want to do SEO, like we talked about earlier, doesn't mean they will be able to pull it off because there's these things that have to be approved for your type of company and-
Yuriy Timen (00:46:12):
Yeah. Going back to point you made earlier about paid being a really interesting opportunity right now because it's become harder. Would you say generally you're kind of like pro, tri paid, go paid be in this time because I'm finding a lot of startups are like, "Oh, we can't do paid anymore. We're trying all these other approaches to grow." Is that like alpha right now? Start thinking about paid in a creative way and maybe this is going to be a huge advantage.
Yuriy Timen (00:46:35):
So there are two pieces to do paid. I mean I'm oversimplifying, but I think people will hopefully appreciate the over the oversimplification. Number one, because it actually drives returns at efficient unit economic, whatever that may mean for your company, your business, your industry. The other way to do it is because it's a very quick way to get learnings on messaging and positioning on designs on features. You're thinking of launching et cetera, right? It's hard to get faster learnings at scale than A/B testing headlines, Google search or whatever. I think the problem that I find is when a company can't have which camper in or where they try to say that they're in both, but really it's like, "Okay, you're funneling a hundred K a month." It's super inefficient and they're not even running experiments to actually get the learnings. I can assess the company, even if I don't download the industry as well, based on just seeing their funnel performance, their conversion rates, their retention curves, their LTDs, understanding their churn.
Yuriy Timen (00:47:43):
I could say whether they stand the chance at making paid work as a former strategy. So not just the learning mechanism, not just the kind of a feedback engine, but actually a profitable at delivering acquisition channel or strategy. And if I see that they're not there because the funnel doesn't convert well, the users don't retain the LTDs are too low. Then I say, "Hey, it's not time for paid. Maybe car on a little bit of budget if you want to quickly test positioning and things like that. But it's just too soon." But instead I encounter a company that's really healthy conversion rates, strong LTDs. I do a little bit of competitor research and I can see where the opportunities are, which channels are less saturated than others. Then I may say, "Hey, it's worth it. It's worth a go." And also just seeing the bigger picture of their financial health, how much runway do you have? What does your monthly burn look like?
Right? Because paids like cash going out the door and it will return hopefully at some point might be six months might be a year, and so that's a real constraint. You mentioned onboarding and funnel conversion. Two questions there. One, do you have a heuristic of here's good for conversion rates? Is there something that you think about there that you could share or is it very case dependent?
Yuriy Timen (00:49:03):
I think it's case dependent, but yeah, it is. It's not case dependent. It's category dependent. So it's not that every company is so case, but it's like, we got to know about what buckets we're talking about. I will say that... Let's say we talk about prosumer premium SAS, ala Grammarly, ala Canva, Whimsical, InVideo, things like that. Yeah. I can confidently say a healthy website visit to a free user, a free account creation conversion rate. It's probably in that 20 to 35% range.
From landing on the site to signing up?
Yuriy Timen (00:49:45):
From landing on site to a free user at scale. Earlier stage, you have strong product market fit with some kind of small audience segment that conversion can be 40 to 50%, but as you go broader, it'll probably asymptote at like 25, 30%. What about a conversion if you're premium from a free user to a premium account or paying account? I think anything under 5% is not going to work long term, regardless of how big your top of funnel is. You may get the soft point, but for you to remain an independent company continuously growing pre IPO, I don't think it's going to happen. It's got to be north of 5%, ideally like more than 7%.
Wow. Super handy. On the onboarding point, what's your thoughts on investing in onboarding and that part foe of how often is that a fruitful area of investment?
Yuriy Timen (00:50:49):
Almost always. A lot of my work is in that sort of a prosumer space. So the products tend to be more complex. Airtable, whimsical, Canva, InVideo. They're very robust products. And so it's very easy to get lost in their editors. I think what all of those companies are trying to do for their respective verticals and use cases is they're trying to democratize access to fades that previously you have to rely on professionals for. Maybe in the case of bayer team bot, it's your engineers. In the case of PM bot, it is professional graphic designers. In the case of a video, it's professional video editors. So when they're trying to democratize access, but they're also trying to make the products robust enough to be comparable to a professional great quality. And it's a very difficult place to play it, right? It's like, how do you make it simple enough where a nonprofessional can use it, but robust enough where they go and say, "Oh yeah, this is as good as if I would've hired a professional fill in the blank."
Yuriy Timen (00:52:19):
And that's where onboarding, sorry for the long answer. That's where onboarding is really, really important because there's such a huge difference between landing someone on that initial editor page, be it Airtable, Canva having that left to their own devices versus getting as much information or as much relevant information front and then customizing that landing experience for them. So that if they're there to do X and we know XYZ about them, we're able to guide them and not expose them to the robustness of the product all at once. So the short answer is almost all the time onboarding is a big opportunity.
Awesome. That's what I was expecting to hear, to give folks some context. What's kind of an order magnitude that you've seen improvement on onboarding and maybe impact on a company improving onboarding.
Yuriy Timen (00:53:15):
Earlier stage companies where still haven't really approached the local maximal, but you haven't experimented with a ton of things. I mean, you can two to four X activation rates easily through onboarding. I think later stage companies like maybe Series B beyond, I think you can still probably get to 20 to 30% lift at activations. It depends on how many low hanging fruit are left to tackle.
That makes sense. Yeah. Till the onboarding, there's always money in the onboarding banana stand. On that kind of same idea, do you have a general feeling of investments in this stuff often pays off and helps you grow and is often higher ROI and investments in bucket B are rarely successful. What would those two buckets be?
Yuriy Timen (00:54:07):
So thinking of investments rawly, right? Not just monetarily.
Yeah. Yeah. Time and resources.
Yuriy Timen (00:54:15):
Yeah. I mean, I would say that getting to know your customer always pays off. So it's user interviews and getting to know your market, your customers, and your prospects always pays off. Customer research, inside surveying, interviewing panels incredibly useful. And I found that to be very especially early stages. The amount of clarity at momentum that it can create inside of a seed Series A up to Series B company when you first do some proper research push. The way it can galvanize the team and give them focus and clarity and purpose is remarkable. So that always pays off. What doesn't pay off? I mean, I think over reliance on paid, it comes to bite you in the rear end. When I think about tracking an attribution, I think it's a question of the right level of investment at the right stage.
Yuriy Timen (00:55:19):
Rarely do companies get it right. They usually fall into one of two buckets where they underinvest in attribution and they are now, their budgets are up high. They have a broad channel portfolio and they have a hard time figuring out what's working, what isn't and they just get into this inertia. It's like, "Well, overall, the company's been growing and it's been growing roughly over the same time that we've been increasing our spend. We're scared to break it. So we're just going to keep spending." Or companies that read horror stories about other companies overspending. They sometimes try to invest in attribution too much, believe it or not where they're trying to get everything perfect and scientifically pure. But what they don't realize is that the payoff may not always be there. And so how do I fit this into your question of, I think tracking attribution incrementality is definitely a worthwhile investment arena, but it could both be a good or bad depending on the level. So you got to make sure the level investment is appropriate for your stage when you stand to aim for-
Awesome. You're such a good interviewee that you come back to the question.
Yuriy Timen (00:56:39):
No, that I promise.
That was great. Okay. One last question. Before we get to our very exciting lightning round. I'd love you to get your thoughts on advertising on TikTok and YouTube and broadly is there any other tactics, avenues that you think are kind of underutilized or emerging that folks should be thinking about?
Yuriy Timen (00:56:58):
Yeah. So TikTok, one thing I'll say about TikTok is I'm seeing it come up more and more as a channel that works well. And sometimes even the most efficient channel, most efficient digital channel for some brands. But I think that the thing about TikTok that oftentimes I was surprised about is you often hear, "Oh, TikTok that's for the 15 to 22 year olds." I'm bad with my gens Z and oh, my audience is different. So I'm just going to ignore the champ. TikTok has so many users and it's still so relatively unsaturated with advertisers that your audience is on there. You'd be surprised.
Yuriy Timen (00:57:46):
I've worked with brands that their core demo is like 40 plus married making 200K plus in household annual income. And you wouldn't think that demo is on TikTok and it is. So what point about TikTok? Other channels, I think out at home is still not getting enough love. Podcasts? Okay. Yep, yep.
Spots through this one. I recall you heard it from Yuriy.
Yuriy Timen (00:58:17):
Direct mail, what has happened? They've gotten better with attribution because before a lot of those channels were written off as sort of attribution is just too hard on there and attribution is so good and reliable on digital. So that's that gap that canyon that existed in attribution capabilities of online and offline, deterred a lot of people from offline. Today offline has gotten better and actually positioning themselves as being able to do attribution, but also online attribution is deteriorated. So all of a sudden that argument kind of slimmed out a little bit and I'm seeing offline get a lot more traction and in podcasts, especially are actually very, very performant for a lot of brands. Those are a couple of things that come to mind.
Those are great. Happy to hear the podcast piece. Excellent. And then I actually, I'm an investor in a startup that Databig at a home campaign and they just told me that it was a 10 to one positive ROI on the deals that they got out of it. So I've been seeing that too, and that's such a good point that the measurement and attribution online has come down where it maybe makes more sense to try stuff like that. Amazing. All right. Are you ready for our very exciting lightning round? I'm going to ask you five questions I think, and then just, yeah, let's go through it quick.
Yuriy Timen (00:59:44):
Let's do it.
Let's do it. Okay. What are two or three books that you recommend most to other people?
Yuriy Timen (00:59:50):
Ooh, that's something that I think is very wrong to recency bias, right? It's like, what are some of the books you've read recently that you've enjoyed? But I would say there are a couple of books that stuck with me over the years. I think on the business side, where on the business side productivity side, it's a book called Essentialism. I forget the author's name. I think his last name is McKeown or something. And it's basically the book about cutting out the noise and finding a singular focus and doing that really well. It's a book that was a game changer for me at Grammarly being sort of new in my career, having really aggressive goals, not being scared to say no. Taking on a lot, just feel it thinking like, "Well, I'm only working 12 hours a day. There's 12 more left. I can do it."
Yuriy Timen (01:00:45):
And then when you end up stepping into a leadership role, which happened for me, I mean, that happened prior to grounded, but really I was able to grow into that role at Grammarly. That book was incredible and I used it a lot. I pretty much got copies for everybody on the team, like 40 plus people. So that is a book I swear by.
Yuriy Timen (01:01:06):
I read a lot outside of work and business. So I don't know if it's appropriate, but I'll say that. It's Frankl's, A Man's Search for Meaning is just a remarkable memoir on perseverance and I think that biggest takeaway is you can't control what's happening around you, but you can control your reaction to it. And then I'd say the book that I read recently, because I was very affected by the Russia invasion of Ukraine. I'm originally from Ukraine. I believe you are as well. So it hit very close to home and there have been a lot of references drawn between the President's Zelensky and his response in the war and Winston Churchill's response in 1941 when Hitler started marching through Europe. And so I read a book called I think The Splendid and the Vile by Eric Larson.
Yeah. I read that. I read that.
Yuriy Timen (01:02:03):
Did you also read it since the invasion?
No, it was before that, but I totally get that now.
Yuriy Timen (01:02:09):
Reading it right now because I've been following the conflict very closely, but for people who haven't followed the conflict or maybe have only followed the rush, the war kind of in a cursory way, you can put what's happening into historical context remarkably well. So I feel like that book accomplishes two things. Number one, it's like you learned something about not so distant history that maybe you didn't know, which was about Great Britain and Winston Churchill kind of courageous response in the face of Hitler's invasion of Europe. But you also can draw so many parallels to what's happening today. And hopefully that helps us understand what's at stake, not to end on two grandiose of a note.
We'll go less grandiose quickly, but I will add one thing that stood out in that book that is also true in the Ukraine is how during the fire bombing of Britain, people are just going out every day, going to clubs, still having-
Yuriy Timen (01:03:09):
I know. Steal them their life.
And same thing even today in Ukraine is.
Yuriy Timen (01:03:14):
And not just keep, but it's very life.
I love that. Okay. We'll move on to less, less serious stuff maybe. What a transition to, what's your favorite other podcast?
Yuriy Timen (01:03:27):
Honestly, there's only one other podcast that I'll listen to right now because I've just been so consumed. I listened to a lot of live streams and read a lot about the conflict, which has taken up so much of my head space. That's not work related, but I would say that the All in Pod. I feel like it's a cool way for me to just catch up on everything that's going on through their unique filter.
Yuriy Timen (01:03:50):
That's probably the-
Cool. Yeah. I learned a lot.
Yuriy Timen (01:03:53):
I learned a lot from that one. That's so much drama on that show. Okay. Great. Favorite recent movie or TV show. Anything stand out.
Yuriy Timen (01:04:00):
So that's another thing. Since February I've watched nothing. My Netflix skew just keeps growing because they keep emailing me saying this new season is out. I'm like, "Oh yeah. I used to that show. Let me add it to the queue." I mean, recently I had some downtime. The kids were with grandma, so I watch movie Hustle with Adam Sandler.
Love that. So good.
Yuriy Timen (01:04:23):
Yeah. It was good. It was it's very light. It's not like a movie that's going to make you think a lot, but it was just good old entertainment. Yeah.
I like that. I like that summary. Yeah, it was so delightful. Maybe one more question. Who else in the industry do you most respect as a thought leader? Maybe someone people may not know or if anyone else comes to mind.
Yuriy Timen (01:04:43):
That's a very good question. So I would say first off, I do believe that some of the brightest minds, honestly, in any craft are people that you never hear because it takes a certain personality, energy, and probably a lot of other circumstances to invest in your personal brand. And also it's very hard to do that while still staying relevant as a practitioner. I mean, when I think about myself two years ago before starting advising, I was just kind of living in my Grammarly cave. And I felt like I was probably at the top of my craft, but I didn't have time to pick my head up or not, maybe not even just tie, but I didn't know where to start to pick my head up and do something like this. I would say some people that, I mean, I mentioned Ethan in terms of SEO. SEO and just organic growth loops and content as a growth engine, he is best in class.
Yuriy Timen (01:05:49):
Who else? So Mark Fisk, he shows up in the Reforge chats a lot. He was leading growth and marketing at Credit Karma for a while. And right now he's an investor I think at the HRG Capital, but he is a really, really strong thought leader on all things, performance marketing attribution, and just kind of paid acquisition at large. Those are two people that I make sure I... And there are others of course, but those are two who I make sure I stay in touch with at least on a quarterly basis because any casual catch up just yield so many unique nuggets.
Amazing. Where can folks find you online if they want to reach out, learn more and how can listeners be useful to you?
Yuriy Timen (01:06:31):
Honestly, I don't have a very strong online presence. I would say LinkedIn is probably the only place where I seek things the recent, so folks can find me there. They can also find me inside of Lenny's Newsletter. I do. I do. I do, but you can appearance there once in a while and on that's odd.
Yuriy Timen (01:06:54):
How folks can be helpful to me, honestly, promote and shout out of Lenny's Newsletter and Lenny's Pod and that if you're building awesome things, come talk to me. I always carve out some amount of time in my life just for noncommercial things, just to have conversations with founders and spent 30 minutes with them on a phone, expecting nothing in return and maybe save them some time from making some of the mistakes that I've made and help direct them on a more path. So it's about it.
Amazing. You are awesome. Thank you so much for making the time to do this. I learned a ton. I can't wait to get this episode out. There's just so much meat to this thing,
Yuriy Timen (01:07:36):
Dude this was good.
Yuriy Timen (01:07:37):
I feel like my nervousness was unfounded. This was super organic. You are just as welcoming as you are outside of the pod. So yeah. Thanks for having me.
Thanks Yuriy. Thank you so much for listening. If you found this valuable, you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. Also please consider giving us a rating or leaving a review as that really helps other listeners find the podcast. You can find all past episodes or learn more about the show at lennyspodcast.com. See you in the next episode.