From running out of money to generating $2.5 billion in sales, the comeback story for ecommerce platform Privy is nothing short of impressive. Newly named CMO Dave Gerhardt and former vp, marketing, Drift has seen it all—having worked at Privy in 2014 when it had $1,000 left in the bank. Now, the company is harnessing the rapid rise of smaller, DTC companies with clients like Leesa Mattress and popular jewelry brand Mejuri to reinvent its business model. Gerhardt shares his journey into mar tech, why he returned to Privy and the biggest challenges for DTC brands today.
How did you get into mar tech?
I graduated from college in 2009, which was one of the worst times to find a job. The only company that would hire me was a PR agency, so I started there and then went in-house, where I eventually moved into product marketing. It was there (at Constant Contact) that I first started working in mar tech.
I became obsessed with tech and startups. I wanted to join one and be part of something small and have the opportunity to grow it. I got connected with Privy CEO Ben Jabbawy and he couldn’t offer me a job in marketing, but he told me I could join the company and be the first customer success manager. At the time, the company was selling to restaurants and long story short, it was the wrong market. Sales was a grind and the company eventually ran out of money in the first year that I was there.
"... the company was selling to restaurants and long story short, it was the wrong market."
I then went onto Hubspot and Drift—which hired me as its first full-time marketer. At Drift, I helped grow the company from nothing, eventually leading a marketing team of 30 people. Through my experience at Drift, I realized I love marketing. I’m addicted to the feedback loop, creating something from nothing and getting the right people to pay attention.
What made you decide to come back to Privy?
While I was at HubSpot and Drift, Ben kept Privy alive and the company shifted to focus on ecommerce and rode the wave of Shopify. Ben and I had always talked about wanting to work together again, so he’s kept me in the loop with how the company has turned around. That was the number one thing that attracted me to Privy—working with Ben again, since our first try was cut short. But on top of that, the opportunity to do marketing in ecommerce was something I couldn’t resist. I realized that I’m an early-stage marketing person. I love the building. I love doing. I love creating something from nothing.
What’s currently happening that will most impact the future of marketing?
I love how marketing has shifted from something only big brands with big budgets could to do to something that anyone can do. The best marketing today is about being real, being authentic, and being human. And it’s easier than ever because it’s not highly-manufactured marketing. Some of the best performing marketing activities today are done with the iPhone—whether that’s videos, Instagram Stories, TikTok, recording a podcast, etc.
Do you see any challenges with the democratization of content creating?
The one downside is that there is more noise and competition than ever in marketing. But that leads me to the thing I’m most excited about in marketing today: creativity. Marketing today isn’t about some growth hack or some secret or some optimization—it’s about creativity. Creativity is the variable for success today, and that levels the playing field for everyone. The most creative marketers will win. In this world, it’s ok if AI automates everything else. Creativity is the one thing that can’t be replaced by a machine.
"Creativity is the one thing that can’t be replaced by a machine."
With many DTC brands maturing, how should they be thinking about the shift from customer acquisition to retention?
This is one of the biggest challenges with small DTC brands today—so much of marketing is driven by sales and discounts. Repeat customer rate is everything, and to build a sustainable business, you need customers coming back for that second, third purchase. Small DTC brands need to be thinking about lifecycle marketing and creating real customer relationships. And the best part about marketing in 2020 is that this goes beyond just one channel. It’s not just about email; it’s about email, ads, content, video, social media, text messaging and more. You have to be everywhere your customers are.
What are you working on now that's most exciting to you?
The big thing we’re working on right now is our text messaging product. Email is a great marketing channel and will continue to be, but the results DTC brands are seeing from texts are off the charts. With email, you could send something to a customer and have them wait days and weeks to open (or not even open at all). But with text, the response is almost instant (just think about how you use your phone) and the open rates are often over 90%. We’re super excited about the future of text marketing.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
"focus on the one thing that hasn’t changed since the beginning of time: people."
The best advice I ever received was to not chase the marketing tools, tactics or channels. Those things will change every month, every quarter, every year. If you truly want to be great at marketing, focus on the one thing that hasn’t changed since the beginning of time: people. Marketing is all about understanding people: what they are doing, how they are thinking, how they make decisions and what motivates them. The rest (including technology) is easy to learn.