The end of my Metabase Nightmare 🤯

& my chat with Gonz, the VP Growth at On Deck ($20m/y run rate), and founder at Seedtable (19k readers)

Hey everyone,

Before I jump into Gonz’ insights, here are some quick news about our product, that make me super excited.

😇 Some news from Lago

At Qonto (Brex for Europe), as the VP Growth, I spent hours a week exporting .csv files from Metabase (leading open-source BI tools), tweaking them in spreadsheets and re-uploading them in our tools to launch emailing, ads or CRM campaigns.

This was a nightmare, and I developed a deep love/hate relationship with this SaaS. 🤯

Our research has shown that lots of business teams (not only Growth: Product, Sales, Marketing teams) live the same pain.
That’s why, at Lago, we made it possible to use any Metabase ‘dashboard’ as a source, light-transform it (if needed) and sync it to Facebook Ads, Intercom, Customer.io, Salesforce, Hubspot… your favorite tools.

🙌 Don’t just contemplate dashboards, act on data, in a few clicks.

👉 See it in action here:

🙌 Try it for free:

Try Lago

If you’re using another BI tool, let us know in the comments!
🙏 If you know any Metabase user, any intro is greatly appreciated!


🍙 Growth food for the soul

Let’s get back to Gonz, master of flywheels, systems and playbooks.

TL;DR:

If you have read and liked my previous newsletter There’s no hacking your way to growth, then you will love Gonz’s take.

Basically, if you had to take one thing home from this portrait, it should be: in a proper growth strategy, nothing should be left to chance.

I hate how growth is sometimes considered in a hacky, non-repeatable way. Gonz's insights are definitely aligned with the systematic, repeatable, precise approach of Growth as a discipline that I try to promote in this newsletter.

What can you learn from Gonz?

  • his tips on how to build a successful strategy and generate fly-wheels.

  • that Growth marketing works like a city.

Longer version

‘I’m considering joining On Deck’s latest program, what do you think?’ is what I get in my inbox on a weekly basis.

I was honored to be part of the first cohorts within the ‘Founder Fellowship’ last year, which definitely helped me figure out what my next step would be ( 👉 L-A-G-O).

Since then On Deck rolled out 20 other programs: No-code, Chief of Staff, Designer, On Deck for Climate... When you think they have finally covered every aspect of building a startup, they come up with yet another (super) relevant angle.

One of the humans behind that is Gonz Sanchez. He:

  • grew On Deck from 1 program to 20+ and $20m/y run rate,

  • and ran his side project, the newsletter Seedtable, the leading newsletter about European tech, which counts 19k readers and 70k monthly reads.

How does he do it? 

His method relies on understanding any venture as a specific system. Once you understand how the system operates, build playbooks and focus on generating growth flywheels. 

Looks easy when it’s put like that, I know. Let’s see how he actually did it.

His role?

VP Growth at On Deck, master of flywheels.

His playground?

Helping people create and grow companies, whether at Jobbatical, On Deck or with Seedtable.

Let’s jump in!

Anh-Tho Chuong: Hey Gonz, you are now a household name in Growth in the European startup ecosystem. Have you always been passionate about Growth?

Gonz Sanchez: Well, come to think of it, I actually started in tech right from the start, building websites in high school. Yet, back then, my actual passion was architecture. So when I had to choose what to study, I organically picked architecture.

But, after some time I realized that I really liked building websites and decided to switch back.

I have not given up on architecture entirely though: my life-long goal still is to build a city someday. Cities are the ultimate system to understand and grow.

A.C.: I’m quite curious about On Deck, how did you go from being a fellow in one of the early cohorts, to launching 20+ programs and now being VP Growth?

G.S.: Back in September 2020, when I decided to quit my job as head of growth of Jobbatical, I was obsessed with the idea of helping people create companies. I wanted to explore this for a while, but also write, invest… 

That’s when I met David, CEO of On Deck (OD). It was clearly serendipity: the mission of OD was obviously aligned with what I wanted to build, it just made sense to join the party so I canceled my plans and joined as the first Marketing/Growth person. 

That was last July, we were 18 at OD. We are now 130. 

A.C.: Impressive! So, having worked in Growth for quite some time now, how would you define it to a 15 year-old or in a family dinner?

Usually, at big family dinners, I tell people I’m an architect, or a lawyer. It’s much easier to understand... (lol) 

A.C.: Man… I totally relate…

G.S.: More seriously, the short version for a 15 year-old, would be: “Growth is helping companies acquire more users”.

The comprehensive version is a bit more subtle.
It’s actually a bit like for cities, Growth is understanding a business as a system to figure out the leverage points on which to apply pressure, in order to make it grow.

For example, acquiring users via Facebook ads at the top of the funnel, or working on the company positioning.

Actually, one of my strong (and unpopular) opinions is that Growth, Marketing and Sales should be one function and essentially under one leader that thinks as Go-to-market as an entire system. 

However you may call it - Growth, Revenue - it doesn’t matter. Marketing & Growth definitions actually change from one company to another. What matters is that the ultimate goal is the same: grow the company by generating more users or money. It is especially true at the early stage.

A.C.: I 100% agree. An even more unpopular opinion, but a logical corollary, would then be that Product as well should be under this same leader.

G.S.: Yes, great point. For Product-led Growth (PLG) companies, like Tinder, Product should probably be under Growth, since it’s supposed to grow revenue as well. 

At On Deck, it’s actually not the case, because we are not a PLG company.

A.C.: So how is it organized at OD, then ?

G.S.: At On Deck, Growth, Marketing and ‘Candidates’ do report to me.

The Marketing team’s mission is not focused on the programs, but rather on On Deck as an institution: awareness, top of funnel, social, content, community and brand. That’s the reason why the team is centralized.

The mission of Growth actually is focused on the programs and how to develop, launch and grow them.
:It takes care of absolutely everything, from top of funnel tactics to experimentations across the funnel for example. It is then only logical that it reports directly to each program director and focuses on their respective objectives.

Candidates (you could say “Admissions”) is somewhat a sales function at OD, from the moment an application is created to the moment someone pays.

A.C.: Beside leading these three teams, could you give us some specifics about your role as VP Growth? How does the On Deck system works?

G.S.: My core contribution was building the set of playbooks on how to develop, launch and grow new and existing programs. 

To create successful playbooks, I had to think of On Deck as, you guessed it, a system: a feedback loop with fellows entering the system. To grow the number of fellows, the best way is to launch new programs as quickly as possible. 

50% of our fellows come referred from existing fellows: the conversion rate is actually five times higher if the fellow was referred than if she came cold.

The objective is to encourage the referrals by growing the On Deck ‘surface area’. How do we do that? By launching new programs so that fellows have new eligible people nearby to refer to the community.

For example, we opened up the flow of designers with a Designer program.

That way we generated a referral flywheel.

A.C.: And have you identified any bottleneck that you’re working on? 

G.S.: Yes, it is actually the challenge to find good program directors.

A.C.: Could you expand on the playbooks?

G.S.: You make a playbook to ensure that the organization will build things in a repeatable, effective and efficient manner. Systematic, you could say.

The key thing to know about playbooks? They don’t work unless you have context, it’s not just a set of instructions. You need to communicate everything that is in your head in writing, breaking it down to manageable chunks, on a precise timeline: ‘at J-4, you have to do this, that way’.

Never hesitate to add content: nothing should be left to chance.

A.C.: You should definitely write a playbook on writing playbooks…

G.S.: (Lol) Yes, maybe I should. 

A.C.: On top of your full-time job, you’re writing Seedtable, a weekly newsletter that has 17K+ subscribers and 70k monthly reads. How did this project originate?

G.S.: It first started as a joke with some friends back in Argentina, like many side projects I guess. It was a means to an end: immerse myself in the tech ecosystem and make a name for myself.

It actually shifted when I did something differently: I wrote something of value, instead of just curating. I wrote about Spotify acquiring Gimlet Media, not to simply become like Deezer, as many predicted, but also like Adsense. That article got some momentum and gave me the drive to keep writing. That’s where the first hundreds of subscribers came from. 

But I couldn’t help myself: my background is in Growth after all so I thought about how to grow this newsletter. My hypothesis was that people interested in the European tech ecosystem were searching for the best startups in different cities and countries.

A.C.: So you tested it...

G.S.: Yes. First, I bought a HTML template, went to crunchbase, exported a list of the top hundred startups in Berlin, London (...) and uploaded via FTP about 15 lists with a quick template I coded. 

Then I uploaded the name of the companies to hunter.io, and emailed them with personalized messages saying ‘we’ve just featured your company in this list. Do you want to check it out?’. Instead of spamming them, I provided value. So, many of them asked for it and shared the list on their social media. And voilà!

That’s how I generated my first 3-4k subscribers.

A.C.: That was the ‘aha moment’ when you understood how this system worked.

Exactly! Once the hypothesis was proven, I scaled the experiment with about a hundred similar lists.
I made sure I had, right from the start, a very good SEO on those queries. I did it by buying the Seedtable domain from auction for 300$ because it already had an incredible backlinks profile (from Techcrunch, Mashable…). The name in itself was not the main focus.

Today, I have hundreds of lists, all dynamically generated. 

Building a successful newsletter takes some strategic thinking, testing and one focus: creating something people need.

A.C.: Thanks Gonz! Your focus and drive are definitely as source of inspiration. Growth is not about hacks, but definitely about systems, flywheels, and repeatability.

Do follow Gonz via Seedtable here, or Twitter here!