Building a Lead Gen Machine @Silvr — From Seed to Series A
Following my first Growth articles Building your Growth Hacker toolbox from scratch and Lessons from a year at Germinal and next steps, I now wanted to get an overview and reflect on my first 6+ months striving to build the infancies of a lead generation machine at Silvr, which helps us raise one of the biggest Series A ever in France (€130M — as well in global amount (debt + equity) as in equity-only amount (€18M)).
Let’s go back to July 2021 when I was initially hired as a ‘Head of Growth’, but we quickly realized that it meant nothing if I wasn’t managing a team (note to LinkedIn people: no, you’re not HoG if you’re the only Growth person in your company). Therefore, we decided to switch my job title to ‘Growth Manager’ first, which made more sense (because as a GM, you are mainly responsible for implementing a Growth system and culture in the company without necessarily managing people). Since the beginning, my role at Silvr has been breaking down into three parts: Outbound Marketing (scraping and cold outreach), Paid Marketing (running ads on Facebook, Google, etc.) and Sales/Growth Ops (setting up data tracking, building workflow automations and mastering the CRM (HubSpot)) — even though my preference leans towards building a robust Outbound Marketing engine. Yes, that’s a lot but it has been possible thanks to the ‘full-stack’ / ‘T-shaped’ profile I had the opportunity to develop while working at Germinal + countless hours of work of course. Yet first and foremost, I have been and still am right now (fortunately for not much longer) the only Growth person at Silvr, so that I hadn’t any other choice than being multipurpose in my job so far.
👋 Side note: We’re growing extremely fast at Silvr and I’m currently hiring in my team — if you’re interested, you can find the open positions at the end of the article.
This article will be broke down into two parts:
(1) Getting a foothold in the Growth Manager job role
- First 7 days
- First 30 days
- First 90 days
(2) Facing Growth challenges in a post-Seed startup
- Putting tracking at the forefront
- Sales & Marketing alignment
- Scaling the fruitful channels
It ends with a quick line of thinking about what will happen next to reach Series B.
Disclaimer: As I obviously don’t want to give too much food for thought to competitors (they are currently multiplying in France and revenue-based financing is slowly moving from a blue ocean market to a red ocean one in Europe), I couldn’t always get into much details but I will still try to be as genuine, transparent and insightful as possible (>15mn read).
(1) Getting a foothold in the Growth Manager job role
When you arrive as a Growth Manager (and as the first Growth hire besides) in a company, you’re definitely not considered as a ‘Junior’ anymore. You’re de facto the most knowledgable person about Growth in the org and you’re supposed to know exactly what to do; nobody will draft an action plan for you. You must prove clear impact quickly to legitimate the pivotal importance of the implementation of a Growth system in the company (because yes, even though people increasingly understand that doing Growth is not tantamount to find magical hacks, they still expect factual results in the short term).
I highly recommend to break down your action plan into three time frames: 7 days, 30 days and 90 days (actually, it’s pretty common). Some people also craft a vision for the next 180 days, but I personally find it too distant to be relevant all the more as things in a post-Seed startup are moving way faster that you could initially expect.
Pretty much everything that follows draws its core inspiration from this article by Hila Qu, so most credits go to her. My added value here: for each stage, I’ve attached screenshots of the Notion table I created before joining Silvr (you will see I’ve refined her vision according to my personal belief). Then, I’m translating it into concrete actions I’ve taken at Silvr.
- First 7 days: Don’t be too cocky, you won’t achieve anything special during your first week (actually whatever your job role I guess). You should take this time to get to know the people (direct work relationships and indirect stakeholders) and the business in depth.
👋 Meeting with your collaborators —This one is obviously self-explanatory and not very interesting to develop. Take time to get to know your collaborators (all the more if the team is still small). Try to understand the role of each people, what they do concretely and how they work. You need to be clear on how and how often you are going to interact with them.
🧠 Learning the ins and outs of Silvr— Quickly set up a meeting with your manager (in most cases, it will be the CEO). It’s important that you’re aligned from day 1 on the priorities, the expectations and the Growth vision in the org. Make it clear that Growth Hacking is not magic and that it can take some time to see the first results (depending on the industry, the target, the business model, etc.) but of course not 6 months though. Besides, it has been crucial to sit in dozen of demo calls and spend hours with the Investment Analysts (our Sales guys) to deeply understand the offer, its mechanics, the barriers to buying, the sales cycle, etc. To me, they are the ones (along with the Ops team) who are the most knowledgeable about Silvr by far.
🛠 Getting familiar with the tool stack — You need to dive in every tool you will have to use in your job. I spent time looking into HubSpot, Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, Google Data Studio, Webflow, Typeform, etc. The goal was to understand what has been implemented and to quickly get familiar with tools I’ve never used before (fortunately, the stack was not exhaustive at the time and there were only a few ones I didn’t know).
📈 Diving into historical data — Start by listing the different sources / tools that collect data in your company and investigate them further. First, I spent a lot of time exploring the Google Data Studio reports to understand the data from the client side (# of financing, amount of financing, amount spent on their card, etc.). Then , from the business side, I took the time to navigate through Google Analytics and our main acquisition channels (Facebook, Google, Cold Emailing, etc.) to see what have been the results so far.
Nice, you should have learned more about the org, the processes and the people at this point. Let’s get to the serious things now.
- First 30 days: It’s time to start getting your hands dirty and taking concrete actions. During the first month, you will probably start launching your first experiments but don’t expect instant results (especially in B2B).
🖤 Understanding your customers — As a Growth Hacker, you’re probably aware it’s absolutely essential to understand your target and your key persona. In order to achieve the best results possible in my lead generation actions, I took a lot of time gathering infos about our clients. The goal was to find patterns among our clients (even though the sample was not representative enough as we just started selling at the time).
🚫 Filling in gaps in infrastructure, tools and data — It was important to quickly identify critical data issues and fix them in order to start launching experiments afterwards. My main focus swiftly headed towards implementing a robust tracking on Google Tag Manager, fixing Typeform issues, revamping the Facebook/Google tracking and setting up a tracking plan using UTMs. Besides, a huge work had to be done on HubSpot; we wanted to lay the foundations for a robust CRM engine that will support us until the Series A and further on. As I hadn’t the technical skills to overhaul HubSpot at all at the time, I entrusted a freelancer for that (a huge thanks to Anais again for the great quality work).
🔎 Identifying a focus area and starting launching experiments — Thanks to the work done during the first 7 days and my previous experience helping B2B startups at Germinal, it didn’t take long for me to know what experiments I should test first. First: revamp our Facebook strategy (landing pages, campaigns, audiences, creatives, etc.). Second: craft a solid Cold Outbound strategy (it usually would have been first, but as I started my job during the Summer holidays and thus August is not the best period for business, I took advantage of that time to focus on Facebook first and make experiments).
⭐️ Picking your North Star Metric — The North Star Metric (NSM) is the one KPI you should put all your efforts on. As a member of the Marketing team, my personal NSM should have normally been something like # MQLs and # SQLs. Yet, given it was the beginning and that we weren’t very structured on that part, we set a global NSM for the entire Go-to-Market team without distinction between the Sales and Marketing teams. Thus, my NSM was # clients + the total amount of funding generated from measurable Growth actions (Cold Outbound + Paid Marketing).
Great, the first experiments are now in progress and it has paved the way for a structured Growth system. Let’s get the ball rolling.
- First 90 days: The next 2 months are aligned with the previous one with a strong focus on tracking and executing experiments. Here, your tracking system must be solid enough to be able to properly report to your manager.
🧪 Building an experiment backlog — This is pretty standard in the industry but this is a best way to score and prioritize which experiments you should focus on each week / month. Using the ICE framework, I was able to build my experiment strategy for the first 90 days (Facebook Ads + Cold Outbound as said before). Unfortunately, I have been too much focused on execution to keep that backlog up to date later on.
📓 Building a system of records — I was and am still honestly very bad at this one. I’m not currently keeping a file with the hypotheses, plans and results of each experiment… It takes a lot of time and I didn’t find enough to rigorously document my experiments. I’m not feeling like I’m suffering from it for now though, but it might be the case in the long run. If you have time, do it, it will hold an inestimable value in the future.
💡 Building a data report — This has surely be one of the things that took most of my time. Seemingly, it’s not that difficult. But the truth is that you have to think from day 1 how you’re going to structure your report, otherwise you will have to change it every 3 months because you will realize it no longer meets your needs and reflects your actions (but again, things are moving quickly in a VC-backed startup so sometimes it’s unavoidable). I’ve never been a huge fan of Google Data Studio, so it hasn’t really been an option for me. I’ve taken time to dig into a tool called Whaly.io but I found the product too early and it didn’t meet my needs (great product and team though). Besides, I’ve always loved Excel spreadsheets and add-ons (yes), and after discussing with peers, I realized that building reports that way was totally fine (but maybe not very scalable in the long run). Thus, I’ve been building my report based on Google spreadsheet + Adveronix (free alternative to Supermetrics)+ G-Integrator for HubSpot (to automatically pull data from HubSpot into spreadsheets). Spoiler alert: it’s no longer fine and I’m now heavily relying on internal HubSpot dashboards… Yet, it’s not a big deal as we’re currently structuring the org, so that I needed to adjust the report in any case. My advice is that you have to differentiate the reports which will be used at a global business level and those you will be the only one to peer into. My mistake was to initially build an intricate report used both for stakeholders and myself.
⚡️ Executing your first experiments — Not much to say here, I was focus on finalizing my first experiments (Facebook Ads + Cold Outbound), analyzing and optimizing them.
Congrats, you should normally have tangible results to present here. And I find it completely logical as it is also the time you usually complete (or end) your trial period (so you must have data to convince your manager and maintain your position in the company).
(2) Facing Growth challenges in a post-Seed startup
Now that I made it clear how I spent my 3 months at Silvr, let’s talk about the main Growth-related challenges I’ve been facing so far. Keep in mind that I had to deal with the following challenges while having to nail ambitious KPIs monthly as we were raising our Series A at the time (and we wanted to raise that round under the best conditions possible, so metrics had to be stellar).
Putting tracking at the forefront— I already knew it; data is at the core of every company and a priority when you’re working in Growth. I guess there’s nearly no early stage startup (without Growth people) where data tracking is flawless (or even decent). And it’s very frustrating because doing Growth Hacking is all about taking data-driven actions. It completely drives me crazy when I can’t tell where a lead comes from in a blink of an eye (and that was unfortunately but predictably the case when I arrived at Silvr). Thus, my first challenge was to craft and implement a tracking plan from scratch, so that we could identify precisely how people have landed into HubSpot. I did it crafting a UTM plan with some custom scripts in Google Tag Manager to transfer UTMs to Typeform (as we’re using it instead of a proprietary form for our lead generation). It was not tremendously difficult but absolutely necessary (mainly to build the data report I was talking about in the previous part). Yet, it doesn’t completely solve data tracking issues as repeat visitors without UTMs couldn’t be directly identified using this method.
Beyond that, what was (and is still) really at stake was to align every stakeholder about the importance of tracking and UTMs (everyone in the Go-to-Market team must know what ‘source’, ‘medium’, ‘campaign’, etc. mean and how to fill them if they are missing in HubSpot). At first, people didn’t really care about tracking because they thought they all had in mind where leads came from (well maybe, but since it wasn’t written anywhere, we couldn’t make any use of it), so I had to remind them how crucial it was on a regular basis. Because at the end of the day, there’s no relevant report possible (and anything it implies after: KPIs, bonuses, etc.) without data tracking — make sure you take care of this properly!
Sales & Marketing alignment — This is typically the kind of stuff you know theoretically beforehand until you experience it. At Silvr, it has been (and is still) a complicated challenge as what we call our ‘Investment Analysts’ are tantamount to full-stack Sales++ (i.e. they are both SDR, Account Executive, and Customer Success, among other things), which mainly implies that I can’t make them lose time on unqualified leads and that my lead generation must be top-notch. It has been very frustrating because, as a Growth Hacker, I need to constantly test lots of things in order to enhance my lead generation process. And when some of my experiments didn’t work, they were drown in calls that wouldn’t convert to clients in the very near future, and they (and the business) couldn’t stand that (especially because we were on a roadshow to raise funds at the time). Thus, it has been fostering a continuous misalignment between Sales & Marketing even if we’re all part of the same Go-to-Market team with a common goal at the end of the day (# clients + total amount of funding). It has also created misunderstanding from my side as I should have normally been assessed on leads, not clients. To streamline the lead generation process, I had to recur to an account-based strategy, scoring leads into tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3 lists, so that the Investment Analysts could quickly know how much efforts they had to put on each lead. It helped them lose less time on unqualified calls, but the volume of interesting calls drastically decreased, which wasn’t satisfying either. After 6 months experiencing misalignment and keeping up a blurring line when it comes to our respective scopes (who has to deal with cold email answers, who has to follow up with leads when they don’t show up, etc.), we ‘understood’ that the problem was more structural. Now we have closed that long-awaited Series A, we need to remove our blinkers, let the Investment Analysts do their core work of Account Executives and hire real SDRs. Indeed, SDRs have undoubtedly been the main missing link to bridge the gap and align the Sales and Marketing teams. It is also essential that we set relevant and different KPIs both at an individual and team levels.
Scaling the fruitful channels— When you have found your main acquisition channel, the challenge is always the same: how do you do x2, x3 and so on in the coming months? When it comes to B2B, I think that there are usually 20% of the channels (outside Partnerships, which is more on the Sales side than on the Growth side) that really work and account for 80% of the results (to refer to the Pareto rule). In most cases, Cold Outbound is very likely to be one of those channels and that’s the case at Silvr. I have been doing cold outreach for 6+ months and I’ve been constantly reaching 10% of demo calls out of thousands of mails sent (and it even includes mails sent to generic email adresses like contact@ or info@). My best campaigns easily perform with a 15–20% demo rate (based on only hundreds of leads though).
🛍 E-Commerce stats (07/21 – 12/21)
☁️ SaaS stats (07/21 – 12/21)
Those results have only been possible to achieve thanks to an hyper-segmentation of the databases and a highly effective copywriting. The first element has been requiring a tremendous amount of manual work. However, it’s not viable in the long run and my main challenge for the months to come is to find how to scale this channel without spending literally 50% of my time cleaning databases. I’m someone who is extremely detail-focused (which is honestly both a strength and a weakness), so that the stake is to find the right balance between manual work and automation. I don’t really believe in full automation for now (maybe it will change when we’ll have a full-time Growth Engineer). Maybe, there’s no such balance and I simply must find people to do all the manual work instead of me. I’m still thinking and testing lots of things here (shout out to Anas). I think it’s also the right time to consider data warehouse and signal-based Outbound. Scaling the lead generation is also closely related to the previous challenge ‘Sales & Marketing alignment’, so as long as it’s not solved, I’m convinced I can’t scale; everything in good time!
My second fruitful channel is Paid Marketing (and a single advertising platform specifically that I unfortunately don’t want to disclose for now as I want to make the most of it as long as possible), which brings me a constant and insanely qualified dealflow everyday. This is neither my favorite paid channel nor the one I’m the most knowledgeable about, so scaling it is quite new for me. I still have lots of experiments to try out on this channel but in any case, I’m glad it’s working that well at the moment.
Bonus: What’s next?
I humbly think my sweet spot is somehow helping B2B companies go from Seed to Series A. Indeed, I had the opportunity to support lots of B2B startups at this stage when I was working at Germinal, and it happened to be also fully relevant for Silvr. But the hardest part is yet to come, i.e. managing to scale successfully and reach Series B. Most startups fail at this step. My personal goal is to become Head of Growth this year with roughly two years of experience in Growth (I know it’s exceedingly ambitious but I find the challenge interesting as it might be my last experience in the industry :)) while keeping a strong ops focus as I can’t imagine not getting my hands dirty on a daily basis. In order to achieve that goal, I realized that I couldn’t keep up with 3.5 different job roles; it’s high time I delegated tasks and hired. I will put aside the Paid Marketing and Sales/Growth Ops parts (and stop doing SDR/BDR tasks as well) to focus 100% on Outbound Marketing as I deeply want to nail this channel like never before. I need to be able to see the big picture and dive into global strategic topics. One of my main challenge is to ‘lock’ the French market (both for e-commerce and SaaS) by the end of the year while starting to expand internationally in S2 2022.
Now, we also have a Chief Revenue Officer in the team (Pierre). He is definitely a strong asset to structure the go-to-market org. He always has good advice and is definitely of a great help on hiring and management topics. Although, we share a common vision on multiple topics, its core expertise tips the scale in favor of the Sales side, that’s why we’re looking for an experienced VP Marketing to help the Marketing team scale.
By the way, if you want to join the next-gen financing revolution in one of the most ambitious French (and tomorrow European) startup, I’m currently building a Growth A-team and hiring for the following remaining roles:
Shout out to the all Silvr team (and especially to my ‘Always Be Closing’ Investment Analysts: Florian, Mégane and Charles). A big thanks also to all the Growth peers who accepted to have calls with me to share their best practices; it has definitely helped me refine my vision. See you for the next chapter🤞
Note: All views are my own and do not reflect those of the ventures I have worked or am working in.