Jonathan Lumbroso talks with Growthmakers about the Part-Time CMO

Jonathan Lumbroso talks with Growthmakers about the Part-Time CMO

GrowthMakers is a podcast that helps entrepreneurs accelerate their career by discovering the marketing strategies of the top 1% of startups. 

In episode #106 back in 2019, our Co-Founder and CEO, Jonathan Lumbroso, talked with Growthmakers host, Gabriel Gourovitch, about how startups can structure their marketing strategy in just three months with a Part-Time CMO and our MVM: Minimum Viable Marketing model. This podcast was posted on our previous site and many new clients came to us after hearing this episode, so we’ve dusted it off, given it a polish and re-posted it again here.

If you’d like to listen to the original, you can do so on the Growthmakers site here.


00:00 : Introductions

07:23 : How iytro began

17:32 : Jonathan’s role as CEO

22:08 : The components of iytro’s method

32:00 : Rapid fire questions

Introductions - 00:00

Gabriel: Welcome to GrowthMakers, the start-up podcast, my name is Gabriel Gourovitch. Each Wednesday we dissect the strategies and processes of the best startups.

Gabriel: Hi Jonathan. How are you doing?

Jonathan: Great and you?

Gabriel: I’m doing great, Thank you for accepting my invitation and welcome to GrowthMakers!

Jonathan: Thank you. I am very proud and honored to be here.

Gabriel: You are the CEO and Co-Founder of iytro. A new generation marketing/growth agency that helps any startup, small, medium businesses to structure their marketing in a repeatable and scalable way.

Jonathan: Exactly. 

Gabriel: So, it goes from branding to acquisition and referral?

Jonathan: You got it.

Gabriel: To sum up, you apply the codes from the best startups to all your clients. And it seems to be working?

Jonathan: Quite well. 

Gabriel: You have some results to share. 

Jonathan: Yes, to make it simple, to rebound on what you said… to explain what we are, marketing agency means everything and nothing. Today, we are a company that helps to structure marketing strategies. We are not going just for performance, we are not an agency. We're in the consulting business, we give advice. So we enter through the marketing door, to offer strategy and help structure marketing so that (they) can deploy and perform. 

Gabriel: So you only arrive if there is already a marketing recruit? 

Jonathan: No, there are two types of needs. Actually three, I would say. There is the company that is new to marketing. I don't want to offend but it's often B2B tech companies. But we do more, a company that lacks marketing strategy and has no one in marketing. It's usually the founder who does some tinkering on their side by doing posts on Facebook or LinkedIn. This is the perfect target because they will raise money, they will ask what they can do with the money. They will recruit a small junior marketing manager because they raised a million euros and it may not be enough to recruit a senior marketing manager.

Gabriel: How much does one cost? Just to give an idea, a good CMO in a startup, €100,000?

Jonathan: Depends on the maturity of the startup. But if we want to work with people who really perform, it's more like 100,000 to 150,000 euros or even more because after all, marketing for many, can be a little scary and it becomes a cost center. But finally it is really the crossroads. It's unifying an entire company. Between sales, HR, and the emotional side.

Gabriel: For €150,000 euros, I think I’ll become CMO.

Jonathan: If you're ready to be recruited, yes. I think you'll find a job offer. Those are amounts that make heads turn. But when HR comes to see you and tells you that you can't recruit, it's because you have a branding and visibility problem. When you can't close a deal, it's because you didn't do your work of lead generation, and that is not good. You didn't identify good targets. When the CEO tells you they have problems with sales, it’s maybe because the initial target is not the right one, so you need to rework your personas and think about a secondary target. Finally, we indirectly touch a lot of subjects like tech. Which can be linked to marketing because many imagine and crystallize the user experience through a website or an application but a customer user experience can start from the discovery of a brand to the use of the product and that goes through both the application and the website but also the interactions like the driver from your Deliveroo or movers when you use Trusk.

Gabriel: You say something interesting, it’s true. We often forget that the user experience begins with the first advertisement. And very often we forget that we make ads that will perform and over perform and then they go to the website and it doesn't tie to the ad or the product. 

Jonathan: Exactly. I think the role of marketing is to maintain the consistency of a brand and as you say, it goes through online and offline. And the goal is to align the communication even if it's not the communication. It's the modes of expression of the society, that can be through the behaviors of the company's employees so that's really the first role of marketing. Finally, it is to align the different synergies of all employees, the products, the clients to align them around a brand. 

Gabriel: Jean-Charles Samuelian the CEO of Alan often says that the culture must be felt in the product, the culture must be felt in the company. Do you think we can also extend it to marketing and communication?

Jonathan: Obviously, this is the essence of marketing. The way we usually work and what we do is that, we didn't reinvent marketing, we are working on a branding platform and in that we really use, we built a matrix which shows all possible interactions between the brand, the internal and external environment and the ecosystem are on this matrix, we see that culture and marketing are attached. The brand identity, personality, the internal competences of the product and the vision and the mission, obviously, but it goes as far as mode of expression for the relationship we have with our competitors and others and it is there that I say it's very important, is that finally the culture of a company is part of the identity of a brand and must be re-transcribed through the sales through the marketing through the tech, through HR and others.

Gabriel: Can we find this template somewhere?

Jonathan: This matrix? Well, no. Otherwise we will have to close the company.

Gabriel: I tried, I tried.

Jonathan: We can discuss it at length. I adapted a Harvard matrix to be quite transparent. On the internet, you find a lot of things and there are many matrices and the idea is to take the best elements and adapt them to your customers. Today with the expertise that we have, we were able to create a tool that allows a snapshot of brands that meets the needs of every start-up.

How iytro began - 00:07:23

Gabriel: In 2019, You  tripled your revenue to reach 350,000 euros and went from 1 person to 10 employees all without raising 1€. Bravo. The goal for the next 30 minutes, is going to be understanding how you recruited, you first clients, where they come from and how you built this offer that is quite innovative and to deconstruct this method that is labeled iytro that you put in place when you arrive with your clients and to end with the famous rapid question segment. But before that, let's go back to the beginning of iytro. In 2019 very early 2019 January, you just left your position of director of marketing in the VC Alven.

Jonathan: Yes

Gabriel: Now we have to quickly find customers. You tell yourself that now you are a freelancer, I will build my own company, what do you do?

Jonathan: First, I think the problem is that if you say you are freelance you will not succeed, because you won't be able to start a company because freelance means you make your own schedule, whoever says they are freelance really means you bring in money really quickly and then you don't think about growth or about recruiting people and structuring a company. So, in my head I never told myself I was freelance. Obviously when I left Alven, I had a comfortable position, I was quite exposed and had the possibility of working with very bright people, I took a risk but I needed that risk and I didn't know where I was going. I was not sure where I was going. I was able to iterate with people from Germany, trying to find the marketing issues companies were having. From this, I said that  I needed a product that answered this problem. To make it simple, you should know that today the CMO never lasts in a startup, it is a fact that it does not work today. A company that earns between 1 and 5 million euros doesn't arrive to recruit a CMO, let alone keep it. 85% of CMOs change jobs after a year. If they're not making any decisions, that's massive. So it can be the company's decision or the CMO. Why? Because in fact during the first two years of a company, there's a lot that changes. A lot of product changes, changes of target, so many changes. I mean, there are so many changes. In fact that the recruitment of the CMO will be linked to a specific  point in time and if the company changes if it passes from B2B to B2C and finally if the company finally decided to target people over 50 years of age and not young people, 16 years old then finally the CMO you recruited will not work. They will not do it or they will be bored. It will be the end of a mission. So in general, start-ups recruit someone with a lower lever, like a junior. So as I was saying earlier, it's either the CEO or the co-founder who fiddles with marketing but at the end of the day its not their job because they have a thousand things to do other than marketing or they recruit a marketing manager that at the end of the days does the best they can and after a year they will know if they will be the CMO because they were the first hire in marketing but that's how it works. A CMO is not someone who posts on LinkedIn. He's not someone who runs campaigns. It's someone who is going to think in a macro way that will bring a bit of a strategic touch on specific issues so to fill this gap, the founders usually find someone more junior who they will maintain and will eventually try to do things. I like to use this image but it is a bit like a mouse running on its wheel. There is nothing heroic that comes out of it and finally there is no vision and finally after a year and a half. And at the next round they recruit a real CMO that will cost them a lot of money who will start from zero and will waste time and a lot of money and they are faced with several problems of recruitment for the next round because they lack brand vision and structure so to fill this need, I said to myself ok, the companies can't afford to hire a CMO at €150,000, there are cheaper CMOs let’s not hide that. But they don't have the means, so I proposed a solution that covers the entire marketing value chain in an acceleration phase. We just raised money. We need to accelerate our marketing. I have the structure to finally give everything that was put in place and to give companies the opportunity to retain, that is the value of iytro. To answer your first question: Either there is no one and we implement everything and we will bring the junior to take it from there or there is someone in place, who we work with and give them all the elements needed so that they can grow or finally it is a company that does not necessarily have a big market and doesn't have a big marketing need so we structure and deploy our part-time CMO mode.

Gabriel: So for everything that is offered, what are the first pieces of the puzzle when you start, so all this is the observation, there is a need. What's next?

Jonathan: We are all scared when we start a company, scared to not have clients. So I was stressed but finally I realized the power of networking. I was fortunate to be exposed with my last position which allowed me to see open doors everywhere. In all the VCs, in all the partners of the ecosystem. Either the company that accompanies start-ups, whether they are providers, whether it's accelerators, so I got the chance to get exposed to finally send 3 or 4 emails and meet the majority of the ecosystem, they were the first leads. Then I needed to find our first client, that would give us a chance, I found them through a referral. People told them, I heard that the ex CMO of Alven built a structure, I heard he had created a methodology. Try it, I think it can answer your needs. Rather than recruiting a marketing manager you will have for three or four months including recruitment so thanks to that we signed our first client, we had a good result and everyone was satisfied so we went a little further and we have developed this partner ecosystem that allows us to bring multiple leads it’s important that I complete with here, knock on wood, I have never used my LinkedIn or phone to find prospects because in the consulting business that is the same as shooting yourself in the foot. If no one recommends you, then you don't have good advice. And thanks to the people who trusted us in the beginning, we found the value of the methodology and finally today, every day, there is at least one introduction made by someone in this ecosystem that we accompany regularly.

Gabriel: We'll talk about it after but how do you actually get there? What do all these partnerships look like? What is the format? Is it formal, is it informal? Is there a commissions based structure? But my current question is who was your first hire.

Jonathan: So it was someone I already knew. It is very complicated because today I am in marketing but I also work with CEOs and as a result there is still a real role of coach that I have to know. To go to a company and tell them that their product is lame even if they raised 5 million euros. Even if you raised 5 million euros, it doesn't mean that your product is exceptional, it just means that you've been successful and have gained a lot of traction but that doesn't mean that it will work in the long term. There are a ton of startups that have big egos because they've raised 5 million euros but you have to be legitimate and think straight and that is difficult to find. You can have the best marketer and techniques in the world but if they don't think straight it won't work. Another thing I realized is that I needed someone who had worked in large groups, even a CMO of a large group waits for orders. They give him a roadmap, a to-do list or a budget. The way we function, how we work with startups, we don't work like that. We start with a blank sheet and try to build something and even then, even the CMOs, even I make mistakes. You have to be really good and experienced. It is difficult to cope with the methodology without a roadmap. So the first employee that I had confidence in, I decided to go with a marketing profile but with some experience in sales as well. Someone that had made a professional pivot because a full marketing profile doesn't interest me much; I was aiming also for sales. He came to see me and he was more in marketing so voila. This person was more or less what I was looking for and he thought straight so his nickname is bagout man.

Gabriel: But what does he do? Does he help with sales?

Jonathan: No. 

Gabriel: What does he help with?

Jonathan: Setting up the methodology. He implements the methods but he also is face to face with clients. So I always have a backup so no matter what happens, the client has someone to contact. With marketing, you can find what you want on the Internet, you can find things about sales, tech, or you can even develop a product. You will find resources on the internet or trainings. Often, CEOs have great marketing ideas but want reassurance. They will call someone, get reassurance, prepare themselves because they will make mistakes and that is the bottom line, being a bagout means knowing how to reassure someone and how to give advice. It's about being a consultant but with capital C. Consulting for growth, for the business to keep moving. Without a person like this, you can't grow.

Jonathan’s role as CEO - 00:17:32

Gabriel: How would you define your current role? You started with an end zone, talked about marketing then about your first hire, today you are almost 10 in the company? What is your role today?

Jonathan: I have one role, like I said, I don't do prospecting but I have a methodology.

Gabriel: So that answers my question but to complete it, when you started and people wanted to come work with you but when you start telling everyone you're not a freelancer but you have a methodology and are creating an agency, a new generation agency. So...this is iytro. This is not Jonathan, ex CMO of Alven. How do you pass that gap and start to say, it's good, and iytro is what I propose to you. How do you get to that point?

Jonathan: In the beginning I was selling our vision. But then it became about getting paid. You're obligated to be present because the company is your brand. But then it becomes how do you find others, to recruit that are killers and maybe even better than us. I had the chance to work with some very good people so I've collected a lot of playbooks but there are also great people out in the market and if you know what you're doing people start trusting you quite quickly and then, when I work with VCs, because I work a lot with VCs and private equity and with accelerators too, with them it's more about me, they want to work with me because I worked at Alven. I know the market so there are times when I am required to stay in the end zone and there are others which I try to pass and try to just take care of the contract, sending clients the contract and giving the speech of please fill out all this information, all the legal information of the company, the mission will be handled by someone else with my supervision and when I receive the contract in return it says that the mission will be handled by me and supervised by me. They're not afraid of anything.

Gabriel: I see.

Jonathan: The benefits of working with someone with my background, we always face this problem.

Gabriel: What KPIs do you use to measure the success of a mission with the client? Since you're the creator, is it something strategic, or something at the macro level? Is there something that provides you with the KPI or some measurable value?

Jonathan: Good question, we get that a lot. When we work with American companies, because it happens, they always want to conceptualize the advice but French people want deliverables even if you're working on a macro scale or in strategy, they want deliverables. So this is important. It's important to give them something to touch so that they can see that you're really working for them. How do we measure success? It's simple. Today, we get to work with certain companies where our intervention lasts 3 months. We start a job and finish a job within 3 months. It seems like a short time frame but in the life of a startup, it's not. Why do they come to us? Normally it's because they don't have the budget or the time so we have to act fast. They don't have time to recruit and just need someone to help them get to the next stage and they have budget problems because it costs too much to recruit a CMO. When you group all of that together you realize that real success is project management. Because if in 3 months you cover all that is marketing and touch on all the subjects along with structuring. If you're able to do all that in 3 months, which is not a lot of time because even within those 3 months you are only a part-time CMO and still need to structure and practice. 

The components of iytro’s method - 00:22:08

Gabriel: What do you consider the practice? Branding, messaging, what?

Jonathan: When I say practice I mean everything. The know how on building B2B marketing from scratch. But concretely? Concretely, it's the brand audit, acquisition & looking at what they've done for marketing. Then we’re going to work. We give them a bit of the methodology so that it can then be applied by iytro. So first of all, the audit, then we go to work. This is an old tactic but we do personas.

Gabriel: Great subject, personas. There are people who do it and there are those who do it well. 

Jonathan: Honestly, there are a lot of startups who say "Ah shit, that's what I would have done 3 years ago." In fact, it's the basis. It's not for nothing. It's in the economics textbooks. It is something very theoretical but in fact when you take your phone and call prospects, this is essential. This is what allows us to understand the direction you should take so we work on the characters, not only possible clients but also environmental characters. Meaning, weI find VCs that might be interested in the company. We will find potential partners, weI really try to see the competitors and work really hard to understand an entire ecosystem. After the personas we work on the offer. The offer; it's important because the businesses have raised money and have thought about market fit but the offer isn't always tailored to the personas. So we find ways to tweak it and redesign it a bit so that it fits with the primary and secondary targets

Gabriel: When you talk about the offer, are you only talking about pricing? Or do you touch everything? Because oftentimes you tweak something and because everything is connected, it also touches pricing.

Jonathan: That happens, not always but it does happen. It's necessary to reflect when that happens because when you touch something it affects everything and it can be a domino effect. So, it happens and there have been times where we've had to completely pivot. You work with great companies that have raised 12, 15 million euros and have to pivot completely but there are companies where only the presentation needs a little tweaking, changing the wording a bit making it a little more light or changing something more drastic. In any case, we work on the offer after the personas and when we have alignment we attack the brand platform. This is where I told you earlier where we really have to think so that we can then create this matrix and after that is when there are 2 solutions available to us. Either the brand is not aligned so we have to rebrand it. In my opinion, I work with the best in Paris who have helped the most beautiful start-ups. So that's what you get with iytro and our network. Today whether it's FDA photographers or something else, we have a network that we feed into. So that can be branding or it can be deployment of the brand and how you created brand consistency all along your company. If it's already good, it is necessary to be able to deploy it. You have to know how to implement it online, offline, how do your employees breathe in your brand, how to create your brand evangelists. So we really work on the deployment of the brand and we work with the founders to ask today what are your biggest bets. Give me a term so the OPAs are the objectives

Gabriel: So how you get started with founders is by asking what are your biggest goals for the year?

Jonathan: Yes, and we do this only with the founders 

Gabriel: Okay so you only work from top to bottom and not bottom to top

Jonathan: Exactly, exactly. It’s top to bottom because it’s macro because after the last time it is deployed in a slightly more precise manner. But for the moment it is only macro so that we reach them, we must have short and medium term goals to know how we will get there. Often it's the marketing building blocks but it can be recruitment problems, visibility problems or lead generation issues. 

Gabriel: So, you really work on the strategy for the marketing roadmap. But also HR, you must recruit…

Jonathan: In any case is the employer brand. We work on the employer brand but sometimes we have overlap. But anyway, if there is no CMO, there is no HR either.

Gabriel: More in terms of strategy is there someone that tells you we're going to do this 3x we will not succeed with two.

Jonathan: Oh yes…

Gabriel: Is there someone that selects profiles, someone who says this profile and this profile will work on this mission and this mission at this time of the year?

Jonathan: That's added, instead of having recruited a famous CMO within the budget, we have prompted someone's arrival because we have identified the important points. So that two people are much more operational, not necessarily a CMO because that role will be handled by iytro but it's really about identifying the right resources and needs.

Gabriel: Do you go so far as to help your clients during the screening process like interviews?

Jonathan: So, I accompany them to define the role. And for interviews, if they need us to meet people, we can do that because sometimes they need our opinion to choose between people, so we give it but more than that we can't, we're not recruiters. However, if the process is started at the end of the mission, we come and do it in a way to accompany the client. Ideally, it would also be a 3 month mission to relay the process and to train the person in our methodology so that he can really take over and continue to accompany the company.

Gabriel: Do you accompany clients who cannot find a hire to take over or to implement the methodology because it does not take a week.

Jonathan: There are clients who don't want that. They say bye that's fine. There's others who pay and say they want someone to come once a week to do the work. We will find seeds, we'll profile them and select leads. The idea is that we can be the part-time CMO: we’re conductors so that happens with new recurring clients, we can make the transition when they wait to recruit someone because there is time lost when recruiting so we are present and with others, it's really supervision. Ok they hired someone and they just need someone who comes once every two weeks just to see that the roadmap is being followed. After, the recurring question is the famous question of why I pay a start up. I know it's not a business.

Gabriel: Yes, that's it. 

Jonathan: Today, you only get one shot with a client.

Gabriel: You get a client, that costs time, on estimate, how much does it cost?

Jonathan: Its prefixed however if I say now, then in a year it will have changed

Gabriel: but that just means you gained value, a lot of value.

Jonathan: It's 18000€ over 3 months. So it's 6000€ per month. 

Gabriel: So if they don't want to pay double, they should go now

Jonathan: Yes but honestly it's cheaper than recruiting a CMO. CMOs are a lot more expensive and of course the opportunity cost.

Gabriel: Exactly. if you lose a month, you lose a month

Jonathan: That's why we charge that price, it’s a little aggressive but it works. Honestly, in start ups, they hate consultants. They don't like the word, that's why we created this product, the Minimum Viable Marketing. To finish, today, it's about one shot so for a normal agency… In fact, normally there is 50% to 60% of turnover that comes back every month because there is customer loyalty and then there's new businesses. It’s very hard to start a new business. I think it's 5 or 7 times more expensive to find a business than to have retention. Listen, my job is more macro and strategy. If you need a guy to stay full time with you for 2 years then you have to recruit them from the beginning. All startups need a good CMO. If there is a hole to fill in the startup, then we fill it. Afterwards, they have to recruit. On the other hand, I think that a referral is more powerful than a reference. In any case, in our job, it is that today I don't have the numbers but you see the numbers of funds, the name of startups in France, there is a lot of need and a startup that is satisfied will recommend us to 5, 6, 7 buddies of theirs with whom we go up and down, that's what's crazy, Is that in addition it is such a small ecosystem that once again we don't know what tomorrow will bring but finally there are 7 businesses and I prefer to prove my value to those businesses because you are a lot more effective for 3 months than someone who knows a little bit about the agency in France the first 2 months, it's basics and the year after its the retainer, it's really about making the juniors and interns work. I do not support this model and one that I can't stand to see or call an agency. The first two months it’s the partners doing the work and the month after it's the trainees and interns that's why I consider learning the value of every time I work on a project.

Rapid fire questions - 00:32:00

Gabriel: We are at the end of the interview. I will ask you several questions in a row and you can answer only with a few words or a sentence, does that work? What tools do you use for marketing and growth?

Jonathan: Excel, a phone, and creativity. Honestly, many want to use tools when they don't even know why they purchased them, it's complicated. We find that everyone wants to use tools in their company and the first thing they usually buy is Hubspot but honestly, before you go and buy tools, you have to structure yourself with creativity.

Gabriel: What are your favorite blogs or podcasts?

Jonathan: Yours of course, I love La Galère because it is not at all marketing related, we enter through the door of an entrepreneur's life because often they are not successful with a company but we see the 4 or 5 struggles that they had before and it is interesting because we often find ourselves in the same situations, I like that. 

Gabriel: What is the best advice you have gotten? 

Jonathan: I never applied it and I regret it. But I'm still able to sleep at night. It was not just from one person, it was from many: it is necessary to have a partner, it's necessary because we know that a startup with only one founder doesn't raise money and well I wanted to launch by myself, and I think I would be 3x as advanced if I had a co-founder that accompanied me because today it's my girlfriend who helps. (Edit: thankfully this changed not long after)

Gabriel: Is there a book that you follow?

Jonathan: I really like sapiens, I don't know why because it has nothing to do with marketing but we started the business to solve a problem and in Sapiens, we see that the pre-humans adapt to everything, everything is about adaptability. Our body parts adapt, we adapt to the environment and in the context of business that's kind of what we do. It's not scalable, and by that I mean that you might waste time but you adapt to everything, to every need and every resource. Today when we see companies spending 30% of funds on Facebook ads, well, we have to find other ways to do this because at the time it was easier to acquire on Facebook and maybe now we should go back to square one. It's nothing. I don't have the science behind it but what is certain is that it is necessary to adapt to the market, it’s constantly evolving and I think that it's good for us to constantly evolve as well.

Gabriel: Well, thank you very much, until next time.

Jonathan: Thank you very much.

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