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HelpDocs Has Ruined Marketing for Me, and Here's Why I'm Grateful!

“If you ever need a marketing gig in the future you’re pretty fucked”, Jake remarked during a completely off-topic bout of lighthearted banter about work ethics.

We often joke about things like hustle culture, working too hard, or not enough.

You only put 12 hours in today? Pfft! Let’s pro-rata your salary!

It’s always in jest—at least I hope it is! At the very least, it’s not out of the ordinary for us to talk about things like how we’re working, knowing our Slack group is entirely judgment free.

In fact, the day before, it had been the other way. Rather than joking, I’d been struggling to get into work and was candid in how this was shared within the team.

I guess that speaks to our shared values of transparency and respect for one another.

In any case, that morning I’d decided to bin the few hours work I’d done, to start the whole thing from scratch. Sometimes a clean slate is the best medicine.

I digress.

We’d ended up bantering about work ethic because I’d taken a support ticket that came with a feature request. The user was working on adding their support team using Slack SSO and wanted to be able to assign a default permission group for them.

It was a fair request. As someone who’s gotten to know how to get the best from HelpDocs over the better part of a year, it seemed like something that would improve the user experience.

We already do it with SAML and OIDC too, so Slack was on the roadmap for “some point in the near future”—which as we all know is code for “we have a bunch more important things to work on right now, but might get to it eventually”. So it made sense to fire it over to Jake, to show there was interest in it.

I didn’t hear much. I know he’d seen it because he’d told me it was on the roadmap for “some point in the near future”—see above! But I saw from his status that Jake was at the gym, so didn’t expect much chat about it.

Just over an hour later and Jake shared a message in Slack:

Jake: @matt will ship the Slack permission stuff later today

Not only had he taken the request, but he’d also written the code, tested it in staging, and was ready to ship within an hour…and had time to fit in a morning Gym session, too.

Here I was, struggling with a blog post, while Jake was knocking out new features in 10 minutes.

Talk about making me look bad! 😔

Matt: If you can be a little more incompetent, I’d really appreciate it!

A joke, for sure. But what is it they say about truth in jest?

I guess I was shocked, really.

Though I’m not sure why.

Having spent the better part of a year as part of the HelpDocs team, witnessing the relentless need to ship daily, I should be used to such a quick turnaround.

I think what surprises me most is that now and again, I have to remind myself that both Jake and Jarratt are C-Level. Because they sure don’t act like any C-Level execs I’ve ever known.

Can you imagine working for a useless CEO?

Since joining HelpDocs, it’s fair to say my expectations of what makes good C-Level execs. have been totally subverted.

You see, Jake is the CEO. Traditionally, his responsibility is to take care of the stuff we mere mortals are told is “higher-level”.

Most of the CEOs I’ve worked with have had an incredible superiority complex, when they’ve really been little more than micro-managers, pulling subordinates into meetings to run through OKRs, disparaging them when they don’t “crush” their KPIs.

It’s really quite sad. But I’m sure we’ve all met at least one.

The worst of the bunch are always the “ideas” people. You know the ones I mean. They’re so distracted by shiny new things that entire divisions are steered away from targets, and then blamed when the company comes up short.

I don’t know what kind of C-Level execs I expected Jake and Jarratt, the CTO, to be when I started. To be honest, I’m still not sure.

Jake still ships new features in response to a request from an individual user. And Jarratt still draws the incredible illustrations that accompany my blog posts.

Ok, I know some CEOs and CTOs still ship code. It keeps them grounded, or whatever. But with HelpDocs CEO and CTO focusing the company purely on making things people like using, my expectations of what leads to the success of a great product have been completely and utterly subverted.

Let’s Ignore the Bullshit

Since the start of the year, we’ve added 50% to our revenue. I’m not going to share specific figures, because that already feels crass and boastful. 🙈

This is the point in the blog post where traditionally, a marketer would share some revelatory technique they employed to increase conversion rates, and optimize their funnel.

But, that would all be bullshit.

Genuinely!

The reality is, we’re not doing anything we weren’t doing before, save for realigning my job role to take on more support, happiness, and education.

Realistically though, it’s just content. The same as it was before. There’s no significant difference.

As a marketer, it shouldn’t make sense.

The sudden uptick isn’t a blip, either. It’s been pretty constant. Which has made me wonder, is successful marketing really just coincidence and correlation?

Of course 'optimizing funnels' probably has some knock-on effect, but is living and dying by metrics and data-points really the answer?

I used to think so. But now, I’m not so sure.

Let’s Not Bother with Metrics

In all my previous roles, and I think in marketing in general, ‘success’ has always been tied to a metric of some description. That metric is then reliant on things like improving engagement, revenue growth, conversion rate, whatever.

So when I joined HelpDocs and my illustrious leaders made the decision early on to not be driven by KPIs, it’s fair to say I was skeptical, and a little confused.

Yes, we all keep an eye on MRR and ARR so we know what’s going on there.

But at this point, we’re all happily salaried, living our best lives and working comfortably. So, it’s more about celebrating revenue milestones than anything else.

The trouble is, everything I thought I knew about successful products, businesses and marketing is being challenged.

When you remove the metrics, the funnels, the constant worrying about sudden dips in traffic or engagement, and your product is still successful, the legitimacy of those metrics is brought into question. Isn’t it?

What’s more, once you begin to question those metrics, you suddenly find yourself enlightened to the fact that beyond customer-happiness, nothing else really matters.

You could have the best marketing team in the world, but it won’t matter if you have a shitty product that people don’t like using. Sure, it might work for a while. But eventually, you’ll be rumbled. Just take a look at the Fyre Festival!

Some might argue that this blog post is marketing. Sure, if you count me plucking some random thoughts from my hyperactive brain and channeling them into a random post as ‘content marketing’, I guess you’re right.

That doesn’t change our focus though. Our overarching goal is to ‘make things people like using and write interesting stuff’. It seems to be working and helping us be successful.

When it came to the feature request that prompted this exploration into the depths of my mind, there was no discussion about the ROI of the feature.

There was no talk about how many users had requested the feature.

There was only the fact a user had an issue which validated a feature on our roadmap. A feature which could improve the user experience.

Nothing else mattered.

In my new Customer Education role, I’ve seen how incredible being customer-centric is, which has made it impossible for me to go back to being a marketer.

Because who needs a funnel?

Let’s just make good stuff and tell interesting stories.

HelpDocs Has Ruined Marketing for Me, and Here's Why I'm Grateful!
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