RWL184 From Psychology to Marketing: Unveiling the Path of a Marketing Leader with Benyamin Elias, VP of Marketing.

In today’s episode of the Remote Work Life Podcast….. Benyamin Elias, the VP of Marketing at Podia, shares his unique journey from studying psychology to spearheading marketing strategies. His story offers a compelling narrative on how academic knowledge can be transformed into practical tools for success in diverse fields.

From the grit of unpaid internships to the entrepreneurial triumphs of his fitness website, Benyamin’s story is great for anyone keen on leveraging an educational background to excel in seemingly unrelated fields.

The episode rounds off with a forward-looking discussion on remote work and its transformative impact on work-life harmony and career progression. As we reflect on the non-linear paths that define our professional journeys, we delve into the significance of skill diversification and the evolving hiring process in a digital age. Join us for this enlightening session that’ll give you with a fresh perspective on career growth, remote work.

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Alex @ Remote Work Life:
0:01

Hey everybody, it's Alex once again from the remote work live podcast, and today I have the pleasure of introducing you to the VP of marketing at Polia, benjamin Elias. Benjamin, thank you very much for joining me today. Very good to have you on the podcast.

Benyamin Elias:
0:17

Yeah, glad to be here.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
0:20

I just knew I had to have Benjamin on the podcast today because, I mean, not only is Benjamin somebody who is knee deep and his whole career has been dedicated to marketing, but he's working as VP of marketing, as I said, with Polia, a remote business. So I'm always curious to know about career development, but also the the, I suppose, to peek behind the curtain in terms of how different teams run and how different remote businesses run. So, benjamin, I'm really looking forward to hearing more from you about that as we go through through the show. But, first and foremost, just I guess tell us a bit about you. Just a guess, a potted history of how you came to be with, with, with Polia.

Benyamin Elias:
1:15

Yeah, I'll give the story going all the way back to when I came out of undergrad Nice, yeah, and I went. I went into undergrad as a psychology major. I was intending to do psychology major undergrad, do research, go to grad school for psychology, become a professor of psychology. Never leave college, stay there forever, stay in the university system, stay in academia. And then I started to do some of this research and it turns out that sitting in a room with a two way mirror and waiting for 100 people to fill out a survey is not actually an incredibly fun way to spend your time. So, even though I loved reading about this stuff and studying it and doing the statistics and every single part of it, other than actually running the experiments and going through the approvals and review boards and everything like that I just wanted to go somewhere that was a little bit more practical or real world, or you could see impact or things would move faster. And when I graduated I was like well, I have no skills on, one would pay me for and that's a little bit of a problem. But this field of marketing seemed interesting because it struck me as applied psychology, and so what I did was all of the theory that I had been studying and still continue to study, but in an environment where I could see how it impacted the world faster than you know. I got something published in some good journal. So what did I do? I just took on any work that I could get my hands on. I did a few internships, unpaid. I did a cold sales internship with a SaaS company. That was not necessarily what I wanted to do with my time. I did a PR social internship with a nonprofit. I wrote online. My first online writing was ultimate frisbee analysis for Alti World, the premier news source for ultimate frisbee.

Benyamin Elias:
3:09

And gradually, in the six months or so after graduating, I was taking on all this free work and some of the paid a little bit. I got paid 20 bucks an article, for example, and when that work I built up a little bit of resume. I was able to get a full time internship, $12 an hour, at a marketing agency that focused on the life sciences. So that was my sort of in was. Hey look, I have this experience that's extensive over the last six months and I also have a psychology degree, which is sort of a life science, and I can sort of speak the same language. That was supposed to be a three month internship.

Benyamin Elias:
3:46

A month or so into that, they brought me on full time and they said we want you to do content marketing. And I said what's content marketing? No idea, what was it? They said oh, you can write, so that's something that we can have you do was like all right, like everyone can write. You saying that I'm literate or all literate, right? I didn't appreciate it.

Benyamin Elias:
4:08

That was a skill that was useful in the business world. But as soon as I got my foot in the drawer with that, I want to learn everything about it. So I started spending my free time and downtime between client projects just reading everything I could. I read started with this the usual suspects, the hub spots and the Neil Patel's of the world and then I started to expand into people who are a little bit more thoughtful after that, and that led me to want to actually get my hands on it again. Like this is sort of a theme is, I want to get my hands on stuff and play with it to figure out how it works. So I started my own website. It's still up I don't write for it anymore, but it's. It's there as a sort of living history. Routine excellence. Calm was was a site that teaches you how to get into the gym more consistently without being frustrated or quitting all that often, and I used all the garden.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
5:04

Oh well, it's still there. All the other.

Benyamin Elias:
5:09

And I used all the stuff that I've learned from psychology and you know as a gym goer to really break down like, look, you know, you go in and do a really hard workout. You feel terrible the next day. Of course you're not going to go back in. There are there are all of these psychological things that are at play when you do anything new, but also when comes to the gym, and what that afforded me was the opportunity to start my own website and use all the tools set of Google Analytics and start to monitor that over time. I had to do email marketing, email automation, lifecycle stuff, set up lead magnets, distribute the content, write the content, optimize it for search all this stuff and I was fortunate that it sort of blew up right away. The first article blew up on Reddit and got 250,000 people yeah, a lot, well, and four sign ups. So that was my immediate oh. I got to learn how to do forums better and, you know, offer lead magnets and not have the form at the bottom of a 4000 word article and, you know, learn something that way. The next two articles also blew up on Reddit and I picked up a few more sign ups, now that I have my forms better. After that I got my hands more into the search side of things and I was really learning SEO, which is also what I was doing day to day at the agency for clients, and I eventually scale that to 30,000 organic visitors a month.

Benyamin Elias:
6:26

But before I took the job at active campaign. So active campaign was the big jump into the tech world I knew that I wanted to go in house from the agency. I thought that I probably wanted to go in tech, into tech. I really couldn't have anticipated at the time, knowing what I knew then, how much of a big jump that was going to be and how beneficial it was going to be. But it was great. I had used active campaign in one of my freelance projects and I just learned that they were in Chicago, where I was, and that they were hiring for a content marketer to write for their blog. So I looked at their blog. I was like, oh well, I could do this. I already do all this stuff for clients and you know I wrote my own project. I was able to. You know I talked to someone who I knew, who knew someone at active campaign, to get sort of the lay of the land. I finally applied at the interview and sort of. The rest is history.

Benyamin Elias:
7:25

I came in as an individual contributor to write three articles a week for the blog and after about eight months or so I was promoted to manager and was able to hire someone. Another nine or so months these numbers flies a little bit every time I tell the story. Was it seven months, was it nine months? I don't know After another nine or so months I was able to hire three more people for my team and then in the six months after that we went from 38,000 organic visitors to our blog to 119,000 visitors, and we had started when I got there at first at 8,000. So we went 8,000 to 119,000.

Benyamin Elias:
8:03

Wow, at that point stuff changed and more things started to come into my team. I had PR and social, I had some elements of product marketing, I had SEO come in, I did some forecasting. I managed all these various components. It sort of was, you know, at a fast scaling company like Active Campaign that went from 200 to 1,000.

Benyamin Elias:
8:26

While I was there there were always more things to do than there were people to do them and we were hiring constantly. You have to get to 1,000, but we would never hire all the things we needed at once. So it was oh, benjyman, you're gonna go figure this part out for now. We will eventually hire someone. You know, we hired a VP of corporate marketing, but until we do that, you have to figure this out. And that's when a lot of the different components of marketing started to come under my umbrella. So I was promoted director of content and then eventually it has all of these different things meant that I wasn't really doing as much content. I was promoted to director of growth and then jumped over to Podia a little under two years ago and as director of growth and then was promoted to VP of marketing, leading the marketing team at the beginning of this year.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
9:21

Nice, nice. Tell us a little bit about Podia, because, like you said, you've been here for a couple of years now. You've, it seems, every way you've got. In fact, your career is like this it's basically on an upper trajectory and much the same with Podia. So you started, if I remember rightly, as, or you've worked your way up from director of growth. Now you're VP of marketing. Tell us a bit about Podia, then, and how that's all evolved.

Benyamin Elias:
9:49

Yeah, podia is a platform that gives independent business owners and online creators everything they need to run their business online. So you can start your website, you can run an online community, you can sell digital products, you can sell online courses, you can run coaching sessions, you can do host webinars. All of that you can run in one platform. And what was first of all? That's a great product.

Benyamin Elias:
10:17

I always look for a great product and a great market, and when I was at Active Campaign, the market that I liked most was the 20-ish percent of our customer base that was online creators. So Podia was sort of naturally followed from that and I just told the whole story of my website where I did all of that. I made courses and everything. So I was one of those people also. But what was interesting about Podia as a company is that it is really a company that values long-term thinking, which is not the most common in tech or SaaS, partially because of the incentives that come with taking a lot of investor money. Podia has taken some investment, but not in an orderly amount, and we're currently profitable and have been since mid-2020. What was interesting coming into that role as Director of Growth was there was a ton of opportunity to dig even further in and think even more about what are the? How can we position ourselves for the long-term in this market? So the first thing I did as a new marketer was interview customers, which is generally an okay thing to do as a new marketer, and I did a whole customer research project where we interview the customers. We have these selection criteria for who we interview. We then take the transcripts, we annotate them, pull the annotations out, we annotate them again. Like the whole, all of the academic background comes to play doing that type of customer research, and what we found there was that we could really adapt our business model to capture this market a little earlier.

Benyamin Elias:
11:53

I won't maybe this is not necessarily the subject of what we need to talk about, so I won't go too far into depth unless we want to.

Benyamin Elias:
11:58

But Podia was primarily an online course platform for a long time and we were still known that way. But we found doing this research that most online creators or independent business owners don't start an online course until at least two years to being operating their business. So that meant yeah, there's a whole lot of stuff Between then between the start and the course that we actually had all the product to serve but were not priced appropriately to serve. People weren't gonna pay $39 a month to get their website when you could pay Squarespace, whatever it is $16 a month, or I think 16 and 18 were their chairs at the time. So we repackaged, we split out a free tier, we now have a freemium business model and that shift has changed the dynamics of the business a lot, has created a lot of new opportunities in the business and there's a lot of still. What we're working on today is building up the core engine of the growth model.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
13:03

Yeah, and there's lots of. I think it seems like a renaissance. Not renaissance, but evolution of different platforms online Now so many other platforms, but what makes, what makes PODIA stand out from the likes of ActiveCombain and System and all those other ones? How is it different? Yeah, it really so.

Benyamin Elias:
13:25

First of all, it's an all in one and it really has everything that you need to run your business, and that's one of the top pieces of feedback that we hear from customers is I just love that everything is in one place and I could stop using these other tools and I didn't have to figure out how to connect anything and it's just all here.

Benyamin Elias:
13:44

And then, second of all, it gives you all of the most important things that you need. There are a lot of platforms that have a lot of bells and whistles. Fundamentally, you don't need that many bells and whistles. Fundamentally, you don't need that many things. You need them to work great, you need them to look great, you need them to be possible to build on your own without pulling your hair out which is not what happened to me but without pulling your hair out and without hiring someone to do it for you and all that kind of stuff. If you are starting a business, you need to be able to get up and running fast, and PODIA's free tier is a big part of that, because you can build your entire website completely for free, you can use to community, you can start selling products all of that on the free plan.

Benyamin Elias:
14:31

Love, that the other thing is that when you actually decide to upgrade, we're designed to be the most affordable platform out there. We don't want to nickel and dime you. We are doing this type of customer research and pricing research so we can find the sweet spot of what is the best fit of pricing and packaging for the market. That also allows us, as PODIA, to continue to reinvest in the business and grow and make a better platform for people Got it.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
14:55

And one thing you mentioned when you were talking about PODIA in general and the philosophy of PODIA as compared to other tech companies. You mentioned the long-term thinking of PODIA as opposed to other tech businesses. That's something that's important to you, clearly, and is that something that Talk to us then about the team, your team and the wider team with PODIA as well, please.

Benyamin Elias:
15:25

So we have a fairly small team that we have kept that way intentionally, and keeping the team small is part of staying flexible for an unknown future. I think a dynamic that happens in a lot of SaaS businesses is they take investment and there's a lot of pressure to spend that money very quickly Pressure from the investor, pressure gets to the next round, that kind of thing. A lot of that goes into hiring heads and when you're deciding where to hire, especially in marketing, you look at okay, well, how is this channel doing and let's put more resources into that channel. And then, how is this channel doing and let's put more resources into that one, and we'll find maybe three channels that are doing okay and we start to hire people individually to make them do better. That works for a while until it doesn't, because there's a limit to what an individual look at channel can accomplish for a business and it gets harder to go from 10 to 20. Is 100% increased, okay. 20 to 40 is the next 100% increase, 40 to 80, like an absolute terms. It gets harder. And when you're going from 100,000 to 200,000, well, you're just not going to using the same approach that you've taken.

Benyamin Elias:
16:30

And what a lot of businesses run into is oh, we have grown and that's good, but we've done it by resourcing individual channels and we don't actually know how this business grows. We just know how to invest in channels. So we have stalled and now we're panicking because we're not hitting the targets that we thought we could hit. And also we have too many people. We hired too many people because we hired the channels individually and now we have people who know how to do specific things and not how to actually solve the problem facing the business.

Benyamin Elias:
17:03

So in many ways, the opposite approach. We think what is the thing that makes this the right product for the right market and how do we build towards that? I can answer any specific questions about how we operate as a team also, but that's where we start from. Is what is the right product for the right market? What do you think about product market fit? You think about product marketing fit and you have to make sure that you are resourced appropriately. To answer the question how does this business grow, which I think a lot of companies are not necessarily.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
17:40

And your team. Tell us about your team. Specifically, then, and obviously, as I mentioned, this whole podcast is about remote work as well. Where are you? What part of America are you in?

Benyamin Elias:
17:53

at the moment I'm in Portland. Maine is where I live and your team? Where's the rest of your team? We have a spread For marketing. We are mostly in the US. I guess that's less true than it has been in the past. We have someone in Virginia, we've got someone in Nashville, there's someone in Texas and now someone in Portugal and someone in Cardiff. So we yes.

Benyamin Elias:
18:20

And you know yes, we've got a good spread and other teams have more people as well Someone in Japan, there was someone in Bulgaria, there are people in Brazil, like there's a. We're really spread out across the world in a pretty good way. My team currently is a director of marketing who has two direct reports and then two people who report directly to me. And that's the team, so six including myself, and again, like I said, we try to keep it tight. We are always. Our principles of marketing have to do with going for high upside and looking for these high leverage opportunities where we don't necessarily have to spend a lot and we don't necessarily have to again pull our hair out trying to accomplish something we just have to find the opportunities that are usually involves some lateral thinking that can have a disproportionate impact to the effort that we put in, because they tap into something related to our product or customers or our market. I can give examples of those campaigns if that's interesting.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
19:26

And just on the continue this tap with the team. Well, in fact, you actually let's talk a bit more about you because, again, remote work, remote team distributed across the world Europe, north America. You mentioned Asia as well. I think Was remote work a deliberate choice for you.

Benyamin Elias:
19:51

It was not. It was a pandemic driven choice initially when, in like July of 2020, active Campaign announced that it was gonna go fully remote and that led me ultimately to move from Chicago to Maine in November of 2020. And when I jumped to Podia another thing that was appealing is that Podia had always been remote before the pandemic as well. So I was like, oh, they're gonna be better at it and not try to use meetings to solve everything and have solved for some of the prioritization challenges that come and the communication things. So it was not a deliberate choice, but it is a choice that I do not see myself changing from.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
20:35

Yeah, so you wouldn't revert to the back to the office life?

Benyamin Elias:
20:40

no, no, it's not. Commuting is the first really big thing. You just get so much time back, and then the ability to sort of float around in your space without necessarily like having to look busy is very helpful. Where?

Benyamin Elias:
20:57

like I can get up, spend five minutes on an exercise bike if I need to like slap myself awake a little bit, I can go play piano for five minutes. I can work for a while here and then go to the gym a little bit early and then work when I get back right In the evening or like float around like that. And we have a lot of flexibility across our teams. I would say I probably stick fairly closely to the nine to five schedule, but we have folks who are able to spend time with their kids and take them to things between whatever noon and two and they come back later online to get some other stuff done. So we have that level of flexibility here. That is, as long as we're performing well as a team and as long as, we'd say, our trust battery is high, which it tends to be with the people who work here we can take advantage of what remote work offers above working in an office.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
21:57

Got it and in terms of the well tech as well. I mean, obviously you mentioned you've been in tech companies, you've been in active campaign, you've been in powdery at the moment, Was tech for you? Cause I know you mentioned the psychology element of what you do, although there are some marketers out there, or a lot of marketers, that use psychology, you might be said, to persuade people to do certain things, but did you ever see yourself in tech? Or again, was that just why? Was it planned, happenstance or just just look?

Benyamin Elias:
22:35

Yeah, it was a little of both, I would say. I definitely, when I was making the jump from the agency, was thinking about tech, and I thought tech is a place where the businesses have really high margins, which affords you a lot of things. You A get paid better than in most other industries and then B, you have a lot of room to experiment with stuff because there's just more. You just have more resources. You have a product that scales not with zero marginal cost, as we sometimes like to say, but with minimal marginal costs, and that means that there's a lot to reinvest back into the business and you have the opportunity to have massive growth, and in a way that just does not really exist in other industries. There are some examples here and there, but they are sort of the exceptions that prove the rule.

Benyamin Elias:
23:31

I had a sense of that. I fully did not appreciate the magnitude to which that was true and like how much starts to come your way when you're in a fast scaling company and how much opportunity that creates for you. It definitely was just from a salary jump perspective was appealing at the time and I knew that I didn't wanna be in the agency anymore, but I couldn't. I will not pretend that I was like tech, that I knew everything about tech that made it a great place to build a career, but I had an inkling that that is where I wanted to go.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
24:05

And in terms of your, because, obviously, as I mentioned before, the trajectory of your career is one that's trending upwards, If you kind of. I mean, if you imagine, I guess, the stairs, on a staircase, for example, and you're on that staircase, whereabouts are you then in terms of your career? Are you the top middle? Where are you?

Benyamin Elias:
24:29

Yeah, it's a really interesting question and I saw it on the question list and I was like, oh, how would I answer that question? Because I can't say I'm at the top right Because I have so much time left in front of me, but I'm also clearly not at the bottom, so I'd have to default to somewhere in the middle. But then I would really say I tend to not think of careers as particularly linear, although if you were to look at my career it sort of looks a little bit linear. But it looks that way, looking backward right, like when you look forwards, you have an infinite number of little dots in front of you to connect, and then when you look backwards, well yeah, I only connected once out of them, because that's how time works. So I tend to think, in terms of careers, that people make careers by being good at all sorts of different kinds of things, and I have so far leaned into some strengths to get to where I am. But there will be a point where I have to work on some other things in order to unlock more of the strength, like it has carried me to a point, but now I have to do a couple other things to continue going past that point.

Benyamin Elias:
25:43

There's a book called by Marshall Goldsmith what Got you here, won't Get you there and it is specifically for managers who have risen because they are great individual contributors but now they have sort of stagnated a little bit because of these 20 reasons that he lays out.

Benyamin Elias:
26:02

And the book is fine. The title is really the thing that grabs you and I think if within you management specifically but there are a lot of reasons that people initially succeeded management Some people succeed, like I said, because they're incredible individual contributors. Some people lead by their own example and pull their team up that way. Some people index very strongly on managing their direct reports and being very empathetic and people rise to a certain quote level on the staircase using those various skills but then to continue passing them to develop some of the other skills. So that's sort of how I think about that is, I've risen to a certain point in the staircase using a skill set or the dispositions that I have. If I want to continue rising or jump to another stair or, you know, choose something else in my career, I may have to develop some of the other areas.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
26:56

I noticed that careers are something that you do talk about, and particularly you talk about soft skills, and I'm interested actually because, as you mentioned, you didn't necessarily plan to be a remote manager, but clearly you're doing a good job. What do you think has put you what I said not skills, or what generally do you think has helped you to be the manager you are?

Benyamin Elias:
27:25

I tend to give this answer that not everyone thinks is a good answer. If I am good at a thing, I think it's this, and it's not like intelligence or working harder or any of those types of things. It is that I am pretty good at changing my mind, and in a space especially marketing, where there's a lot of orthodoxy about this is how things, this is how the world works, this is how it should be, this is what you must do, or else you're stupid. There are these rules that when you dig into them and you start to look at the evidence, you're like wait, but is it? And maybe it is, but is it always? Or is it in this way and not this way? And one of the things that I always try to keep in mind and I'm always trying to do is update my model of how the world works. So that, to me, is the sort of underlying thing that applies to a lot of the work that I do, and what it has, how it has helped me, is that it helps me run towards the most important problem that a business is facing. A trend that I see a lot, especially in new managers, is if I ask a new manager, what do you think the most important thing that the business could focus on right now? The answer is, almost universally it's the thing that I'm good at it's I'm the content manager, so it's content. I'm the ads manager, so it's paid. You know, I'm the life cycle manager, so it's life cycle. That tends to be the approach that people take, and I've never taken that approach. My thought is always well, I don't know. Let me go find out, let me look at the numbers, let me talk to the customers, let me understand what really is the answer to the question how does this business grow? And that ability to change my mind is super important, because you're going to have to update that model all the time. You will come to an answer of how this business grows at one stage of growth, and the business will grow a little bit and the dynamics of how it grows change, so you have to update it again or you're going to start to stagnate and struggle.

Benyamin Elias:
29:31

As it relates to management specifically, I really had to learn what management was, which feels like a weird way to say that. But but what is management? Is it working directly with your team and your direct reports? And I would argue no. It's not primarily the goal of a manager this is a quote from Andy Grove, ceo of Intel is to a manager's output is the output of the managers organization plus the neighboring organizations under the managers influence. And when you approach management that way, things start to change, because it's not about managing your direct reports, it's about how does my function operate effectively and influence other functions to work towards the ultimate goal of the business.

Benyamin Elias:
30:22

There are a number of pieces of feedback that I've gotten that contribute to that and that's some of the stuff that I write about. It's things like you know, managers team is not their direct reports, it's their peers. That's an insight that when I've learned, it was like oh, light bulb, earth shattering, and I had to be able to change my worldview in order to accept that and start to meaningfully incorporate it into my day to day life. So that's that's what I would answer is that I think my strength personally is that I am always looking for the prevailing evidence backed perspective in any given arena that I'm looking at, and the ability to update my model of how the world works. Lets me come into a situation and try to identify. These are the really most important things that we need to focus on in order to be successful.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
31:10

Right, and your team? You say you work, say nine to five, you work, you know your core hours, but how do you manage your team? Is it, is it? Are you normally a sync? Are you seeing? How is it? How do you do all that?

Benyamin Elias:
31:26

Yeah, we're mostly a sync. We have a weekly team meeting that is the whole marketing team and I have one on ones with my immediate direct reports that are weekly, as well as a monthly with with the people that do not report directly to me. We have a few different systems that we have in place to keep things running smoothly. The main thing that I try to think about in terms of managing my team is how do I build the capacity for self organization? Because I could come up and I did early in my career I could come up with the best spreadsheet or air table or sauna or whatever tool of system process, intake forms, checklists, all these things. But if the goal that we're working towards changes which it will in a high growth situation, all of that stuff is no longer the right fit for working towards that goal, and we've started to introduce now your accuracy that that has a spending a lot of time on stuff that only serves the internal team and doesn't actually serve the customer. So if I can build the capacity for self organization, my team can identify how they need to work in order to achieve the objective that we are trying to achieve at the moment.

Benyamin Elias:
32:47

I sometimes will talk about the hit by a bus test. If I got hit by a bus, what would happen to the team If they fall apart immediately? That is a problem and it means that I'm not doing a good job as a manager because I'm holding too many threads and ultimately it means that we are probably operating as one brain and six bodies instead of six brains and six bodies, and as much as possible you want to be using all six brain or all your, all the brains that you have on your team to be solving the problems. The hit by a bus test I think is useful because, well, first of all, can you go on vacation? Because if you can't, you have sort of an issue also and you probably want to go on vacation. But it's an interesting test because, say, I survived the bus, hopefully.

Benyamin Elias:
33:37

Hopefully don't get hit by a bus, by the way, Hopefully I don't get hit by a bus Portland main does not have that many buses to get hit by, fortunately but say I survived the bus. Can they operate for three months, six months? At what point does the performance start to trail off? There will be a trail off because I have a job for a reason, right. But when it comes to the day-to-day operation of things, my input should not be strictly necessary or strictly a blocker for the team to operate.

Benyamin Elias:
34:10

And when I think about that and how it interacts with remote work, well, it's really important, right, because I can't have people sitting around not doing anything because there's, you know, the process hasn't said that it's their turn to jump in.

Benyamin Elias:
34:23

We really have to be all six brains always thinking about how do I contribute to the ultimate goal of the business? And then, when stuff changes, as it does all the time in growing businesses and small businesses, how does the team adapt? I could design some sort of project management system anytime something changes. First of all, that sounds miserable and I don't want to do it, but second of all, it wouldn't work because the team has to decide how the team works. I can try to impose a structure on something, but it's like putting a square peg in a round hole, right Like, let's have the way that we work, the mix of asynchronous and synchronous, and how we manage the asynchronous and how we manage individual tasks versus even identifying what the high priority tasks are be something that emerges out of what the team is already doing. So it's a very natural evolution from the places that we tend to go.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
35:17

Right, and in terms of I mean the way you work as well. I mean, I know every remote worker has its own unique way of working. In place of working, when do you feel as though you work best and how?

Benyamin Elias:
35:35

I tend to split my time between this desk that I'm sitting at, between my armchair that I have in my living room and a heating pad that I lie on on the floor. So I have a. I will tend to do my best thinking in the armchair or on the heating pad and when I'm executing stuff it will tend to be here. When I am thinking, I tend to do that via writing. So I open just a document and there are a few ways that I go about it. But one thing that I've done is I'm thinking through a problem. My rule for the next 10 minutes is that I am not allowed to stop typing. I have to think. Just put everything that I can think about the problem and if I stop typing, whatever, I start to type my internal monologue until it starts to get back onto track with something it's this is a trick from I think it's morning pages.

Benyamin Elias:
36:34

It's Julia Cameron or something like that that comes out of like writing and creativity in that kind of world. But it was useful to me there, so I was like let me try to apply it here and it really does help me. Just bust through sort of the when you're thinking about it in your head. You run into these little loops like, okay, well, I have to do this, well, I can't do this because of that, but I have to do this, but I can't do this because of that, I have to do this. And writing it all down starts to be okay. I got to find some third way to do it or some way to get around the barrier. But yeah, that's where I tend to spend my time between those three places, got it.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
37:09

Yeah, I mean I have two or three different places myself and it's funny when I look back on my time working in an office, I think to myself because I also, when I'm working, I require times where I need to have that focus time, and don't necessarily you know, I put that in my calendar so everybody knows that I'm focusing. It sounds like you have that block of time as well. But when I look back on my time in an office where it's a bit more chaotic and you've got different people coming to you or different times and disturbing, that thinking it makes me wonder how did I ever sort of Organize my time and get any stuff done while I was in the office? But I did. But I realized that working this way remotely is is it's just, I Guess enhanced my, my work when ten, yeah, when I was working at the marketing agency.

Benyamin Elias:
38:03

It was two floors that office because the the owner of the agency on the building and the first floor was like the kitchen and like a lounge area and the second floor was like the open office and all the desks and the second floor had so much noise there was. There were always people talking on the little landlines to talk to clients and each other in the San Diego office and I couldn't get anything done there. So I always used to go downstairs to the lounge area and post up and again armchair so maybe armchairs are the secret to but the owner used to like sort of yell at me about it. He was like we got to see more of you upstairs. I see more of upstairs. Like what? Like? Do you want me to get stuff done? Do you want me to sit in that chair? What's the point? That never made any sense to me.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
38:49

This is the thing you see, right? I've seen more and more articles. Obviously is this this whole new cycle of of companies Trying to get their workers back into the office and the new cycle of, you know, productivity around remote work. But now what I'm seeing emerging a lot more is is visible. You know visibility and People saying that if you're not present, if you're not visible, does that equate to the you're not doing work, is you know? Do you need to see me in order to for me to prove that I'm doing work, or is it a matter of my outputs? You know?

Benyamin Elias:
39:26

yeah, whatever I hear that I always think this manager or this company Does not know what's important for their business. Because that's when the anxiety starts to pop in, like, oh, is everyone doing stuff? Is everyone like are we all working? Is my boss gonna come in and say like, oh, what's happening in your team? If you know what, how the business grows and how you contribute to how the business grows, you're really gonna worry about that stuff. Maybe some people will.

Benyamin Elias:
39:51

Maybe I'm not giving Some companies enough credit in terms of how negatively they treat people, but but that is what I hear typically is oh, like my boss just wants me to do all this stuff. Or here are my deliverables right, and it's not about what is the aim or where does this fit into the bigger picture. Because if it were about that, I think it would be a lot easier to let go of the of the micromanagement and things like that. Again, if, if, if the way my team is measured is by Output and output of the neighboring organizations towards the ultimate goal of the business, who cares when they're getting it done? But if that's not how it's measured, then maybe it does matter a lot to me as a manager. To, you know, maintain my position and maintain my status and my authority and my standing in the company, what everyone is doing. Not that it should, but I think that that's tender. That tends to be how that plays out.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
40:47

That's the thing. It, in the hiring process, you you're having to look out for people that can align with what you know, what you're trying to achieve, and Because not? This way of working I guess doesn't suit everybody, and you get people who perhaps can't deal with the fact that you give them them, give them them that leeway to To do their thing, as long as they're, you know, doing what you, what you're trying to get them to do. And I suppose my next question is is how do you identify those people then in your processes to you know?

Benyamin Elias:
41:25

yeah, how do you, how do you hire?

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
41:26

How do you do that?

Benyamin Elias:
41:27

as best I can. No, no, it is. It is hard, and it's the type of thing that I Want to be careful about saying like, oh, I'm so good at this because everyone thinks that they're good at hiring and the research suggests that it's not necessarily true. There, there are some things we do and some qualities we look for. That, I think, give us a higher hit rate than most companies, but it is certainly not a hundred percent hit rate, and I've made plenty of higher hiring mistakes podium active campaign in the past.

Benyamin Elias:
42:03

What we think about, so, first of all, is our hiring process. We only open roles when we have a clear understanding of where where they fit into the business, which is also something that not a lot of business like, though, or that a lot of SaaS businesses don't do, because they have a lot of investment to spend. We have a hiring process that combines an interview, a series of interviews and a paid test project. The research suggests the test products are more predictive of people's performance when they come into roles. Now, coming up with those test products sometimes requires some creativity, especially for more senior roles, when you're not going to ask them to like, write an article or something like that, but it is still. We get a better data point because we know that it is a thing that the person has accomplished on their own. Our application process has a series of questions that Change from role to role, where we're trying to assess some of the qualities that we look for and candidates which we'll talk about in just a moment. So that's the first thing, from a basic, structural level is we know that interviews are not the most predictive of Job performance, but you can improve their predictive power if you include a sample product as well. Beyond that, there is not a ton of evidence backed. There aren't a ton of evidence backed ways to improve your hiring, but here's the stuff that we look for when we are looking at these candidates, especially senior candidates.

Benyamin Elias:
43:29

The first thing is I'll steal a phrase from our COO, len Markadan we look for people who run towards hard problems. It's common, I think, for people to know that there's a big problem somewhere in the business and not want to touch it, and that's not always their fault. A lot of the time, that's the business that that has created an environment where mentioning those problems gets your hand slapped, and Personally, I like not having my hand slapped. So If I can see clearly how to avoid it. That's, that's maybe a natural thing, but we want people who are going to run towards hard problems. We want people who are going to run towards hard problems because it's the only way that we survive as a business. It's tied to that thing earlier of what's the most important thing for the business. Oh, it's my thing. No, it's probably not your thing. Right, it's probably something. Sometimes it will be just statistically, but Most of the time it's not going to be your specific thing that you happen to be good at. So you have to be able to identify what really is the hard problem and run towards it.

Benyamin Elias:
44:34

That takes me to the next thing, which is more of my phrasing of it. I look for people who can take a diagnosis of the situation and turn it into a course of action, and that is also not as common as I would expect it to be, or at least it's hard to identify in interviews. So you really have to dig for it. A lot of folks come in with a playbook or a set of beliefs about how things operate, and you can over impose that set of beliefs onto the situation that you're in, and so you know.

Benyamin Elias:
45:06

When I was interviewing Content marketers, I would get people who say this is what content is. It's SEO and this and I talk to someone else who is this is what content is. It's building a media company for a business. So well, can't only be both. Like both of those things, right, like it's got to be some mix somewhere between something else and and when I hear things like that, it's like okay, well, is this person going to come in and really look at this business, understand what will make this business grow and apply their skill set to grow the business? And I have to think no. So diagnosis is Can I see things for the way they are and not the way I think they should be? And then can I turn that into the direction that I go next, hard to find an interview, yeah yeah, it is Like you said.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
46:00

hiring is one of the most challenging things, and probably even more challenging when you're you're trying to hire on a remote basis, because it you know certain characteristics, certain qualities on top of the hard. You know hard skills, I know, yeah, the soft skills probably come more to the fore as well, I guess, when you're hiring on a remote basis. So and I hear lots of stories of not just here, but see the amount of people applying to jobs and I'm seeing more and more people using AI to write their it was amazing.

Benyamin Elias:
46:34

Of our applications for AI 15%.

Benyamin Elias:
46:37

Yeah, and sometimes people ask like how do you know it's like well, because we ask some pretty tough questions in the application process. One of the questions was this one's not that hard, but it was what's an example of a marketing campaign that not done by you or one of your team? Companies that you really admire and why did you admire it? And a whole lot of people really love the share a Coke campaign. Chatting with you always spit out the same answer. So they were all all that. Sometimes it was the Nike Colin Kaepernick one, but it was always the same structure, which is like the name of the campaign changed, and when you read 600 applications back to back, you start to be able to spot it really easily.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
47:19

It's a worrying trend. I'm hearing more and more hiring managers talk about please stop using chat GPT, and I don't really understand why, because in order to use chat GPT in any event, in any sort of occasion, you need some sort of level of understanding, and the last thing I'd use in my application is chat GPT because of the repetition that you mentioned.

Benyamin Elias:
47:46

Yeah, they can use it all they want.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
47:48

I'm just not gonna hire them. Well, yeah, this is it, and I think people don't understand that it's. It's not that hard to spot that repetition that you mentioned. So, yeah, word of warning. But apart from that, and the volumes of applications that you get, that's one of the probably the biggest things about you know, not just, in fact, remote work, especially because obviously there's so many people who wanna work remotely these days. You get such a volume of applications, but what's the biggest challenge that you have with your hiring?

Benyamin Elias:
48:21

Oh, wow. What's the biggest challenge we have with the?

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
48:24

hiring Other than that many.

Benyamin Elias:
48:26

No, it really is just that it's the same challenge, I think it's. It is like where do you find these people and how do you identify them? How do you find the people who are gonna look at a diagnosis situation and then run towards the hard problem? Because in marketing especially not as much as in sales, thankfully, but in marketing especially you can have people who are really good talkers and you have to filter the really good talker from this diagnosis to action process. Then also, the person who is really good at diagnosis to action might not be a really good talker and that's sort of a universal interview problem in some ways.

Benyamin Elias:
49:09

But how do you design an interview process that reliably separates the people who are really good at this type of thing from the people who are not good or who are good at talking about it? And we lean on our test projects for that a lot and we lean on our applications for that a lot, because it gives us an opportunity to have the candidates produce original thought and then have us look at that original thought. But it really does require designing the test projects for the recent roles that we've been hiring took quite an amount of time because you have to make sure that success at the test project reflects the qualities that you're looking for, and failure at the test project means that they don't have the qualities that you're looking for. So you don't have like false negatives or false positives. So I'd say that's probably what it is, yeah.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
50:00

And I, you know, in my conversations with people who are looking for work, one of the things I urge them to do not well, yeah, I do, I urge them to reach out to people like you. You know, not like even when you're hiring. Even just to sort of understand, when I say reach out, it could be via LinkedIn, if you're I see you're on Twitter a lot, for example just interacting. Those interactions are those things that you appreciate.

Benyamin Elias:
50:29

I would say that I do appreciate it, but I don't necessarily appreciate it once the role has opened, because I had a lot of those messages and it's just like just not possible for me to respond to all of them, of course. So at that stage it's less helpful. What I would say is that it's extremely helpful to do that sort of outreach beforehand, and maybe there's even a caveat for when the role's open. That'll get to in a second.

Benyamin Elias:
50:58

I have gotten all of my jobs through some version of reaching out to people. So you know my internship things came. One of them I just applied to on LinkedIn. One of them was someone who knew the guy at AltiWorld and that's how I got the cold sales internship in SAS, the agency I got introduced to via an alumni of my alum of my college, because I reached out to like 40 different alums to have conversations with them. And then you know, you ask every person who else should I talk to? Who else is really good at this? Who else could give me a job? And I did all sorts of stuff. I went to like I talked to one person who had graduated a few years earlier than me and he was like, oh, you should talk to my grandpa.

Benyamin Elias:
51:48

So I was like okay, yeah, took a train into the Chicago suburbs and I went to this guy's grandpa's house and talked to his grandpa and his grandpa had a beautiful grand piano in the living room and I was like, oh, I played piano. And he was like, oh, you should play something for me. So I played piano for this guy's grandpa. There was another guy who was like, oh, my company is running a volunteering event related to like STEM for young children and it's at this thing in like way south of Chicago. All right, I'll hop on the green line, I'll go down, I'll go to the event and I'll teach a young kid how to like hit the thing on the catapult to make the thing go further. Like, I just did all of that kind of stuff and I did all of that. I was looking for a job at the time, but those conversations would never give me a job and it was always how would you approach the situation? Tell me about your career, and I've done that throughout my entire career.

Benyamin Elias:
52:42

I, when I first started at Active Campaign, I reached out to a bunch of people because I was copywriting sort of for the first time, reached out to a whole bunch of copywriters and asked for advice and that type of thing when, even to get the job at Active Campaign, I like think I mentioned earlier I talked to someone who I thought this person probably knows someone at the company. They did talk to someone at the company and that didn't help my application stand out directly because they didn't like refer me or anything, but it helped me know how to craft my application to appeal to the company. So I take calls all the time. That are informational interviews and I would strongly recommend people do it. I've done certainly a hundred, if not multiple hundreds of them in my career.

Benyamin Elias:
53:28

What I would say with that is you really got to prep Like. I brought notebooks to my interviews. I had questions prepped. They were not like boring normal questions. They were showed consideration of the specific person I was talking to and that I had done my research. People reach out to me. I'm gonna tell. I guess I'll just say this, even though I usually as a secret. My response will always be hey, I'm super busy right now. Can you reach back out to me in three weeks and then we can schedule something, cause if they follow up then I will absolutely talk to them and if they don't, then well, if you probably weren't gonna take my advice. So if I talk to you and if anyone talks to you, they want to know that you're listening right, they're giving you their time and they want to help. So, you know, help them, help you a little bit.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
54:16

Nice, nice. And what are you excited about, benjamin, for the future? Are there either for yourself or, generally speaking, podia is making moves.

Benyamin Elias:
54:25

We have some really exciting stuff coming up in about a month or so as we're recording this. But one of the interesting things about switching to a freemium business model is how much it changes the dynamics of that business. And one of the interesting things about being a small team is that you have to sort of work on each component of your growth model one at a time. So you know, one challenge that Podia has faced historically is a limit to how much you can pay us if you're a Podia customer. We only have two tiers. The most you can pay is $89 a month and that is a tough thing for a SaaS business to be limiting expansion in that way. So that's a piece of the growth model that we have to build is our expansion engine and the ability to pay us more.

Benyamin Elias:
55:07

But you know, in ultimately in service to the customer and the platform, that's a component that we're gonna build. We're gonna find a building some morality stuff. We're gonna be building some adjusting features and then adjusting marketing to expand it to some adjacent markets. That's gonna be really interesting. It's just such a fun. We get to see people make their first dollar online every single day. We have just showers of. We have a Slack channel called Podia Love. We just see people who are constantly talking about how much our platform affects them and their business, and that makes it real easy to get up and go to work in the morning.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
55:42

Well, one thing's for sure I'll be looking out for what you'll be doing with Podia, and Podia as well. It's been really interesting to speak with you. I've got so many more questions but we're out of time. But you know, I only wish you all the best, benjim Min, and, as I said, I'll be keeping in contact, or keeping an eye on what you're doing for the future.

Benyamin Elias:
55:58

Yeah, great to chat. Thanks for having me.

Alex @ Remote Work Life:
56:01

Anytime.

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