April 2, 2019

Four Takeaways from a First-Time Tech Startup CMO

Four Takeaways from a First-Time Tech Startup CMO

Ryan Bonnici hails from Sydney, Australia and now calls the windy city home. He’s a kitesurfer, digital-native, and a first-time Chief Marketing Officer. Running point on marketing for (formerly G2 Crowd), Ryan joined the all-star Hyde Park Venture Partners portfolio company more than a year ago, and has been around for the company’s rapid growth into a leading B2B software and services review platform. Last year, G2 raised an impressive $55 million Series C, led by Institutional Venture Partners, joined by Accel and Emergence Capital. Currently, G2 houses 500,000 peer reviews and sees 1.5 million visits each month from people seeking unique insights on B2B solutions, and continues growing rapidly.

Hyde Park Ventures Partners, an early supporter of G2, initially invested in the company’s $2.3 million seed round in 2014, and again in its Series A the following year. HPVP has been working alongside the high-growth company since its early days, and I’ve sat on the G2 board since inception. With its acquisition of Siftery in 2018 (now G2 Track), and now an office in San Francisco, the company is on a growth tear.

Ryan recently ventured to Indianapolis (home to the HPVP south crew) to chat with me at a packed Indy Marketing Leaders event, hosted at the Salesforce Tower in downtown Indianapolis. Joined by more than 60 marketers from the Indy tech community, we discussed his experiences as a first-time CMO, how to grow a team, viewpoints on content marketing, SEO, what’s next for G2 and more. And, while we covered a lot of ground, I distilled my top four takeaways from our discussion below:

1. You’re only as good as the team you build (and scale)

Ryan’s biggest realization as he transitioned into his first CMO role? There was no one above him gut-checking decisions he made. Ryan noted this is something he took for granted throughout his career — always having an ear above him to bounce ideas off of. But now, Ryan is that ear to his growing team and finds new challenges in pushing his team to come to him with those big ideas.

G2 is expanding rapidly, now with more than $100 million of funding under its belt, from its original team of founders and early employees to an international business. The company is still headquartered in Chicago, and now supports employees in San Francisco, London, Singapore and Bangalore.

From Ryan’s perspective, this would not be possible without the ability to hire a remote workforce.

The value in being able to attract talent from anywhere is unmatched. At the end of the day, it’s not about where the work gets done, it’s just a matter of the work getting done.

This has allowed Ryan to scale his marketing team from five to 50 in just a year. It’s this growth that Ryan has used to his advantage — he focused the marketing team into three quadrants, with each driven by one business need, whether it be traffic, leads, etc. This change, along with a dedicated SEO team has helped generate some impressive figures, with blog content now accounting for 50% of G2’s website traffic. To see this type of success means growth has to be done with intention — what’s the business need and how will these team adds support that need?

2. Keep a half-step in the trenches

In his role, Ryan can’t feasibly execute on all of the tasks asked of his team but in order for the department to succeed he finds its paramount to keep one foot in the trenches with the team at all times — Ryan’s perspective is, if you can’t do it yourself then how can you ask someone on your team to do it?

Building off the above, though it’s all about team, you still have to lead from the trenches. A firm believer in being able to walk the walk and talk the talk, Ryan stressed the importance of not losing sight of how to execute on tasks that are being asked of your team members. As CMO, his leadership style includes knowing exactly what’s being asked of him team, and even doing it himself if required.

This allows him to not only gut-check himself, but it always helps Ryan with gut-checking the team. In some instances the means jumping in to let a team member know he can take care of it, or do something with them because he knows exactly what it takes, both in terms of brainpower and the actual time needed.

3. Most get content marketing wrong

Most companies approach content marketing incorrectly. Ryan stressed the importance of starting with the end in mind and work backwards to formulate a solid content piece. Rather than writing about what you think your audience wants to see, ask yourself “what are people searching for before they need me/my service?” A content strategy should be built on what people are searching for and not what’s important to you and your business.

Once you have an answer to that question, validate the topic ideas. Ryan suggests using a tool like SEMrush to check where there’s a high volume of searches, and then clustering those around different topic ideas and different customers.

Ultimately, start where your audience is searching and use that volume to your advantage — it doesn’t have to be hyper-connected to your business to start because there’s so much volume at the top of the buyer journey funnel.

Ryan also stressed the importance of quality vs. quantity. The fact is, Google is smart. You’re not going to beat Google with a piece of content. What matters is what the content is about to begin with, and the sheer velocity of content being published. The more you publish (not literally a higher word count, but the number of pieces), the more Google will reward you. Once Google starts seeing a high frequency — from once to three times, to 10 pieces a week — the more your credibility increases.

Indy Marketing Leaders Event

And finally, engagement matters. Every piece of content needs to include elements that will keep a reader (and, prospective buyer) on the page. Ideally, that first of content will push the reader to another resource on your website, and then another, and another…so, always be asking “how can we make this piece even better?”

4. Marketing is a blend of art and science

Fresh off the heels of walking us through G2’s holy grail of SEO — a 50-page guide all new marketing teams receive — Ryan seamlessly took us through the nuances of a full rebrand and how to activate a fresh-faced brand in today’s market.

Ultimately, a CMO cannot succeed without a healthy blend of art and science weaved into the foundation of a team. And, this sentiment was apparent throughout the conversation. Ryan noted this proved true this year as he lead the charge in the company-wide rebrand — G2 dropped the original “crowd” from its name. Rebranding is a costly and time-consuming effort, and it included a lot of data-backed decisions. But, it also plays to the nuances of human behavior and brand recognition as the brand continued to build out its product roster.

A big part of the messaging shift with the rebrand was also going from being feature focused to now being outcome focused.The mentality of marketing being an art + science has allowed G2 to grow to where data is dictating what’s working with target audiences and allows for creative muscles flexed in the appropriate marketing channel. This mix has helped Ryan catapult G2 into the successful brand it is today — a brand that knows software is just a means to an end for its buyers.

Today, G2’s mission is empower its buyers to become better leaders with the use of software solutions that help leaders reach their goals and get back more time in the day.

With 60+ marketers at the event, and plenty of CMO-readers here on CMO to VC, what key lessons would you add to this? If you attended, thanks for spending your morning with us. We’re always impressed by the turn out — do you know of a marketer or city that should be next? Reach out to let us know!

Questions for Ryan? He’s reachable via Twitter and LinkedIn!

Originally published at on April 2, 2019.