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Building Growth Strategy at the Executive Level and Learnings from Running Growth at Disney and Lyft with David Mausolf

Building Growth Strategy at the Executive Level and Learnings from Running Growth at Disney and Lyft with David Mausolf

In this episode, our co-founder, David Khim had the pleasure of interviewing David Mausolf, co-founder of Apex Growth. We covered a range of topics, including David’s business trip to San Francisco, the importance of in-person meetings for building relationships, and potential topics to discuss on the podcast. We also delved into David’s journey to building Apex Growth and the key milestones that got him there.

David shared how he got into marketing despite originally wanting to become a data scientist. He eventually heard about Lyft and decided to join the company, despite warnings from his mentors and parents. David’s best friend ended up working at Uber, and they found themselves competing head-to-head with each other. David describes his time at Lyft as a “crazy experience” that taught him to be scrappy and get the job done, even if it wasn’t in his job description. He eventually left Lyft and worked at Fox and Disney before realizing he was repeating the same pattern of joining a company, analyzing the team, and leaving after a few years. David decided to start his own agency, Apex Growth, to create something of his own and avoid the cycle of joining new companies every few years.

We discuss the limitations of attribution models in marketing and the need for an always-on incrementality testing framework. Many consultants charge a lot of money for data-powered attribution models, but they are often useless. The real question is what is driving value, and most tools do not answer that question. The process of measuring incrementality data can vary based on the channel or tactic used, and it takes a lot of work to understand how to assign credit to marketing efforts. There is no automated tool to do this, and it requires an always-on incrementality testing framework.

We also discuss the challenges of operationalizing the findings and results of incrementality testing in marketing. The hardest part is the operationalization of the findings and results, as it requires socializing the results and pitching them repeatedly until they are accepted and acted upon. We also discuss the trend of marketing becoming too data-dependent, leading to a paralysis of analysis and a focus on small tweaks rather than big changes.

Finally, we discuss the importance of taking time off as a business owner to build a self-sustaining entity that can run without the owner’s constant involvement. No one will buy a company that is tied to the owner and cannot function without them. We advise entrepreneurs to focus on building a machine that can operate independently, which increases the value of the company and frees up the owner’s time to work on other things.

To learn more about these topics and hear more from our guest, be sure to check out the full episode. And don’t forget to connect with our guest on LinkedIn and at Apex Growth.

Thanks for tuning in!

Topics 

  • Systemizing Leadership Patterns
  • Importance of High-Level Thinking
  • Communication and Leadership 
  • Challenges Faced by Agencies 
  • Solving Client’s problems 
  • Importance of Executive Stakeholder 
  • Building Trust with Stakeholders
  • SEO Attribution 
  • Relationship Between Work and Time 

Listen to the podcast:

Key Takeaways:

[21:02] Systemizing Leadership Patterns

Identifying leadership patterns is essential in coming up with solutions to your problems 

“You know what, I think like, maybe this is just the way that my brain works, but I’ve always been like a very like systems thinker. So like, I always like am like trying to figure out what is like the commonality or the process of like way people think. And I was just noticing like, yeah, there were like slightly different problems, right? But like the way that, you know, funda fundamentally there was like different, there was a process that I took, right? Building the team, building the processes, building the planning, and it was kind of consistent. And maybe the, the plans that we did were slightly different, but it’s like, fundamentally how do you get to, how do you design good creative? How do you design good plans? How do you prioritize bets? How do you hire like good people? Um, a lot of those things were like kind of the same things. And also too, what I, I noticed was, you know, when I was starting to like run larger teams, a lot of what I was doing I felt like was being a therapist to other executives. Yeah. I like, uh,I can relate half my job was like, yeah. Just being like a, a therapist and be like, yeah, you know, this is okay. It’s okay to feel worried about this stuff. It’s okay that the growth is slowing down. Like these are all normal things. And it’s like, uh, they’re like, yep, great. Cool. I feel so much better now David. And you know, I do these therapy sessions, it felt like, you know, every two weeks and afterwards they’d always feel so much better. And I was like, huh. And so I was just kind of noticing these patterns over and over again and I was like, it’s like, you know, just slightly different people. Um, and I was like, huh. I was like, well there’s all these pat patterns happening over and over again. Can I just systemize this cuz no one’s really talking about this. Everyone’s talking about the tactics.”

[23:22] Importance of High-Level Thinking 

High-level thinking also involves learning from others, especially those above you

Yeah. So I feel like if you look at my career, like the first couple years, we’re really figuring out like the, the tactical hard skills, right? Like how do you optimize like Facebook or how do you, uh, write a creative brief or how do you, you know, how do you learn everything about it? Right? And like, I was probably like drinking from a fire hose and reading every single article and talking to every single person and looking at every single document, right? And at some point I kind of like hit this like wall where I had learned everything or I felt like I’d learned everything. Like maybe, maybe, maybe I’m not an SEO expert, I’m not an SEO expert. Um, there’s a lot of people that are waste more than me. Uh, product growth rights. I’m not the best, uh, Python anymore, better than me at Python now these this point. But I was like, okay, like me learning the incremental skills isn’t gonna like change the directory. And, uh, it was one of my bosses run Maccabi that really kind of taught me about soft skills… Like how do you, how do you think about like, planning? How do you motivate people? How do you convince executives? How do you like all the, all these things that like, they just don’t like teach you in school and they don’t teach you and most jobs and most bosses don’t teach you at all. Um, and how do you like convince someone to give you like 10 million or like all, all these like aspects like this or, um, how do you push your company to be more aggressive? And, um, it was just like also things like I weren’t, there wasn’t any clear framework or I would Google things online and there wasn’t really, there was like very generic advice for people that just didn’t have the experience. And so like, that was really invaluable. Like, learning from people like Ron or my boss Rick at um, at, uh, Disney U as president there is like, they, they were just like teaching me things that like I never was getting to learn from anyone else. And it was just like this tribal knowledge that was kind like living in their head right? That they actually never had written down. And that honestly was so much more impactful to my career because like once I had learned all the tactical skills right? Then it’s like, how do I talk to the c e o of division for example and convince them that has entire marketing strategy is wrong? Yeah. How do I, how do I do that in like 30 minutes Yeah.”

[27:17] Communication and Leadership 

A leader’s comments influences the thinking of the subordinates 

“Yeah, I think it, I think communication’s it, it’s communication, right? It’s also, um, it’s also like your behavior as well too. Um, so yeah. It’s, it’s it’s communication, attitude, behavior, right? Those are the, the key aspects, right? Um, like an example that is one of the things that Reed told me one time is, um, he is like, one of the goals that I do in meetings is, is like I just shut up and he is like, I don’t talk at all in meetings. And he is like, he’s like, I’ll be sitting in a meeting of like 30 people and he is like, there’s this phenomenon and he was explaining this. He’s like, there’s a phenomenon like that once the highest paid person in the room talks, everyone changes how they’re gonna talk to adapt to whatever the highest paid person is saying in the room. And he is like, so I have to purposely not talk and not comment to just see how people are organically going to like, communicate and how they organically think and observe. And he is like, and then I wait until the very end of the meeting and I say only like two sentences and that’s this, and that’s it. And my whole goal is just to summarize everything I’ve heard hearing in that like one hour meeting and summarize it in two sentences to like, make it really clear like what direction they need to go. Right? And so like just getting to hear like the thinking process behind that and his behaviors and how he acted, right. And then how people also react to how he, how he reacts as well too. It’s like, yeah, it’s like we hear about iq, it’s like the emotional intelligence is also super important. I realized, um, to being like a successful leader and like actually like leading large organizations.”

[00:35:45] Challenges faced by agencies 

Hiring inexperience people and lack of proper strategy are among the main problems facing Agencies 

Yeah. Um, yeah, thankfully we’ve, we’ve gotten back up to some good numbers, so I’m a little bit happier now. Um, but I, you know, I’d say the first 12 months were just kind of when we did it full-time was just kind of figuring out, you know, our positioning and what the actual opportunity was. And even though like we had been doing this for a while, I kind of learned that there was kind of this missing piece, which was, um, most of the agencies that we were dealing with, and I think this is why they get a bad rap, end up hiring folks who are like 25 years old or 22 or, you know, just fresh outta college and then they’re kind of like competing these RFPs, um, to try to like, you know, win businesses and it’s like this kind of brutal slog and margins game. And I was like, I don’t, I’m not gonna do that. I was like, I’m not gonna do RFPs and I’m not gonna, I was like, I wanna hire the best people and that means it’s probably gonna need not gonna be like cheap to, to work with us, but that’s fine. And I was like, also too, like, I wanna do the strategy side as well too cuz it’s like I, I feel like that was kind of the thing I was noticing too, is a lot of times people would come to us and they would already like in their mind know what their problem was or like how to solve it. Like, oh, we just need to like do Facebook or we need to, you know, you know, optimize your creative whatever it was, right? And what I found is a lot of times they’re wrong, like they were completely wrong and the things actually they were looking for help with w with weren’t the things they actually needed help with. Um, and that actually happened with like one company and I was like, Hey, just let me like talk to your team for like two months and just interview everyone and just analyze everything and I’ll just do it for free. And uh, I ended up talking to ’em, I realized actually you have a organizational design issue. The way that you plan your like financial plan is also incorrect as well too. And actually your whole monetization onboarding is like the real issue. So it’s like, I know that you said Facebook was an issue, but actually all these other issues are like, it’s like kinda like an iceberg almost. It’s like they saw like, Facebook performance is bad, but there’s actually all these underlying root cause issues that were driving that issue. And so it’s like I was able to go back to ’em and have that’s like seven page document. Like, hey, here’s all the reasons, here’s what your team’s saying, here’s like picture the root cause issues and this is why you shouldn’t focus on this and you should actually go focus on these issues instead. Um, and so we’ve, you know, we spent like 18 months with them kind of solving those issues and lo and behold, once we solve those issues, suddenly Facebook performance is doing great, right? versus like trying to like hit your head against the wall and try to solve this channel problem. And so the thing I enjoy the most is like actually figuring out like what is the real issue? Cuz most people are really bad at diagnosing what the real issue is.” 

[38:28] Solving Client’s problems 

The most client knows the solution to their problem but have no time to solve it

“Yeah, so an example for one of our clients, um, large, uh, e-commerce company that you get used before, um, with them, it did start out with uh, basically management consulting for the first three to four months. And that looked like looking at their org design, looking at how they basically did, um, modeling their growth program, looking at how they designed incentives for their team. And we kind of solved a lot of those issues and it was kind of working myself or my co-founder who’s kind of working at them. And then we kind of get to a point where we solve a lot of these like high level issues and then we can start getting into like the executional layer. And so most people just jump into the executional layer and just try to start, start like solving things, right? Um, but again, if you haven’t solved like the actual strategy issues, then you’re kind of like executing against a bad strategy. And so once we solve that, then it’s starting to execute and that’s when we bring in team or team. And so it could be, you know, bringing engineers or designers or marketers or program managers depending on like what the scope is. And usually what happens then is, you know, we’re working on a set of set of things. It could be working for example, like on Facebook, it’d be working on conversionary optimization. Um, it could be rebuilding their like, um, market eFlow. So we’re kind of working on those issues and almost, this is like the, the fault pattern I could have noticed is they almost always have an in-house team. Like Shopify’s one of a client and I think they have like 300 employees on their growth team right now. And usually what happens is there’s some problem that no one wants to solve for”

[41:24] Importance of Executive Stakeholder 

Executive stakeholders offer the invaluable experience necessary for the growth of the company 

Um, the other component too is it’s really important to us to have like an executive stakeholder. Um, like we, we actually require that now we don’t work with companies unless there’s like an executive stakeholder. We won’t work for like junior people who won’t work with mid-level people because a lot of problems do require having the board of directors or the ceo, the co-founder involved. And if they’re not willing to go work with us, then chances are they don’t really, um, think it’s a serious problem. And so, um, we charge a lot of money and we also require an executive stakeholder and it ends up filtering out the clients for the people that actually like, really like really are willing to actually make major changes to the business.”

[47:35] Building Trust with Stakeholders

Conferences and word of mouth are the main ways of building trust with stakeholders

Yeah, so the, here’s what I’ve kind of noticed, like the patterns one is like, you, you have to have had been in an executive role to give you that basically social proof, right? That’s kind of a starting point. Um, the second piece is people that you worked with the past who’ve been in senior level roles, right? Um, third, and this is kind of more on the personal branding side, is like going to conferences where there’s other executives like invite only ones. Um, there’s actually event called Traction conference that I’ve spoken at a bunch of times, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, tends to be like, you know, CEO of Intercom or like other people like that. And so you end up interacting with them. There’s also like private Slack groups that you get invited to as well too, where it’s like these folks and they’re kind of, you’re kind of talking like in a very small group of like a hundred people and just trading notes. Um, and then the other component is like those job interviews. So it’s like, um, making those introductions, keeping those relationships, like a lot of people see like job interviews as like, I need a job. But like, it’s also a way to also build inroad to people and get to know them. Like, Hey, maybe I’m not the right fit for you, and this is maybe a crazy thing, but a lot of times, like if I’m not the right fit, I’ll actually try to find someone for my network who is the fit for them and introduce them. And I’ve actually, like, I think I should charge money for this, but I’ve gotten like three people through my friends placed for jobs that they originally approached me for, and so I’m not the right fit.”

[51:57] SEO Attribution 

Most attribution platforms don’t bring forth the value the promise

“Yeah, I, I think, uh, okay, so here, here’s some real talk. Um, there’s a whole inventory out there that’s trying to tell you, well, there’s a whole number of consultants out there. They’re gonna charge you a bunch of money to try to tell you that they have data powered attribution or that they have, you know, medium mix modeling or blah blah, blah, blah, blah. Right? I honestly think 95% of it’s useless. And I, I’m saying this as like a former data analyst and as someone who’s built my own attribution models and gotten a lot of great hairs from it as well too. The reason why is this, okay, every one of these models, it doesn’t matter if fucking Google or whoever does this, it just tells you one way of looking at the world or how to assign credit. But there’s actually a more important question and it, and I think what people misunderstand is they think the attribution is telling you how you should value people, right? And so they make this flaw of mistake of like, I’m moving from last touch to multi-touch, and they think that’s getting them a better answer, but it’s actually not because fundamentally the real question is what’s actually, what’s actually driving value? Like, is like would this, would this add, would this referral, would this email actually have an impact if I didn’t send it? Like did it actually get people to like buy more? And most tools won’t ask you answer that question because the actual process of getting incrementality data can vary based on the channel or the tactic that you’re using. And it takes a lot of work. Like, and, and there’s no, like I know there’s like some tools like incremental out there that, you know, say that they do it like in an automated fashion and everything I’ve seen is it’s, it’s not true. Yeah. There, the actual work of measuring incrementality rate by channel is a hard slog and it’s very analytics intensive and you have to do it on a consistent basis. And that’s the only way to really understand how you should be assigning credit to your marketing and what’s actually driving value. There’s no automated tool to do it that I, that I know right? And I know a lot of really smart folks, no one that has shown me a tool that’s in automated fashion, right? And it’s not sexy, it’s a lot of work. It’s sometimes cost money and people want, you know, easy solutions, right? People don’t wanna spend the time to actually build an always on incrementality testing model because, well, I mean a lot of marketers don’t have a lot extra time. So like, they want something like out of the box that’s gonna solve all their issues, right? They don’t wanna like get into the messiness of having to like figure out and mentality and how you assign credit and everything like that, right? They want somebody Yeah. Tells them everything they need to know and they can go Yeah. Go on for their life. We, we, we just did another podcast recording yesterday and we were talking about this idea of how people need to stop going after low hanging fruit because everyone’s doing the same thing and it’s very crowded space. People are trying to easy tactics because it’s, it’s easy, it’s low effort. Yeah. But it’s really the things that take a lot more effort that are probably gonna make the most impact and, and differentiate and give you that competitive edge. It sounds like this is one of those things. So what does it look like to build this always on incrementality testing framework?”

[01:11:48] Relationship Between Work and Time 

Data shows that there putting a lot of time into work does not necessarily lead to success “Okay, I think there’s like, there’s times when you’re running a business where you have to work crazy hours, right? But I would say if that’s like your default way of running the business, even as a startup founder, um, you’re fundamentally doing something wrong or you’re in the wrong business. Um, and I, I’ve seen that actually a lot of people, uh, a lot of ucs say like they won’t invest in businesses like for stupid stuff if they have like a out of office response or like, they aren’t working like late nights or things like that, or like that they’re indi they’re indicators of like bad entrepreneurs. And for me, the way I’ve always kind of thought about this is like, if you have to work that much and you have to do that consistently, you are either bad at delegating, you’re bad at focusing on the right things to work on, um, or yeah. I mean, you’re just a workaholic and you’re gonna burn, you’re gonna burn out as well too, right? So it’s like they’re all like negative signs that are indicating that something is wrong. And so I, I would really be happy if there was less of this, I guess like aura, especially in the bay area of like, you have to work like crazy hours and that’s the key success. And it’s like there’s tons of data that, you know, McKenzie and other folks have looked at, um, that more time does not equal like more success. And you know, there’s actually a point where it’s like, you know, even folks who are working seven hours a week, it’s like, are you really, like, are you really being efficient? Right. Or are you just trying to root force things, right?”


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David Khim

David is co-founder and CEO of Omniscient Digital. He previously served as head of growth at People.ai and Fishtown Analytics, and before that was growth product manager at HubSpot where he worked on new user acquisition initiatives to scale the product-led go-to-market.