According to our guest today, there are two requirements to grow. They are experimentation and personal growth. But how does he recommend we use those? We’ll get to that in the interview.
In order for your company to grow, your leadership must grow and develop at a faster rate.
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ABOUT OUR GUEST:
Nima Gardideh is the President and Chief Technical Officer at Pearmill, a tech-enabled growth marketing studio. He works with leading technology brands to help them acquire customers through art and technology by bringing a growth experimentation process to targeting, creative production, and data engineering on major digital platforms.
On the side – he is an angel investor in startups and venture funds, growth advisor, and interested in helping founders build the next generation of leading companies in the world.
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Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (00:01):
Welcome to the Multiply Your Success podcast, where each week we help growth-minded entrepreneurs and franchise leaders take the next step in their expansion journey. I’m your host, Tom DuFore, CEO of Big Sky Franchise Team. And as we open, want to tell you, according to our guest today, there are just two requirements to grow. They’re experimentation and personal growth. But how our guest recommends we use those is really the crux of the interview. So you’ll have to listen in for that. And our guest today is Nima Gardideh and he is the president and chief technical officer at Pearmill, a tech-enabled growth marketing studio. He works with leading technology brands to help them acquire customers through art and technology by bringing a growth experimentation process to targeting creative production and data engineering on major digital platforms. On the side, he’s an angel investor in startups and venture funds. He’s a growth advisor and interested in helping founders build the next generation of leading companies in the world. You’re going to love this interview as we jump right into it.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (01:06):
Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m Nima Gardideh. I help run a company called Pearmill. My title is president, although my job, because of that title is quite versatile, I run the sales team and I also run the engineering and data teams at the company. So, a little random, but it’s just what I like to do.
Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (01:24):
We’ve got a variety of broad topics I was hoping to talk through and discuss with you and obviously being a marketing organization, one question that comes to mind that people think of and talk about is how you market or approach marketing during an economic downturn or a slowdown in the economy. Or maybe your businesses, how do you approach something like that? What’s your overarching philosophy on that?
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (01:49):
Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I think that my refuge almost historically was that depending on where you are in your cycle as a company, you may not be as affected, but it turns out that that may not be true depending on what sector you’re in. And that’s really what I’m talking about is, let’s say there is a thousand potential customers out there for you and there is 10 competitors out there and you have really just closed five of those customers so far, and then there’s a downturn. Well, there’s still a thousand potential customers out there that you can work with. And so, going from 5 to 10 is still potentially possible. So there is growth for you to be had, but it’s just going to be a little bit harder, because the other, let’s say, nine companies in this space are now trying to compete a little bit harder than before. Maybe they’re willing to have lower margins, maybe they’re willing to cut corners a little bit on their sales cycles and compete better with you.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (02:44):
So, really what you have to figure out is going deeper into the fundamentals of your business and increasing your focus in an area where you have differentiation enough where no one can really compete with you. And we honestly learned that the hard way over the last year with a lot of our clients where, because we work with all sorts of clients in terms of their size, a good portion of them fell into that bucket of; well, there is just so much for you to grow, because the market is quite big and so on. But it turns out the bigger incumbents in the market are willing to fundamentally change their approach in order to stay afloat. And so you do have to compete a little bit harder, even if you’re a smaller company.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (03:25):
So, you really do need to go back to the fundamentals of your business, make sure that everything you do is going to be not only differentiated in terms of your product, but also in terms of your marketing apparatus. Everything should be break even and making you money within a reasonable timeframe, because if you are in a business where you have to raise capital, if you don’t break even, it’s just going to be harder to raise capital in the downturn. And we’re seeing this happen a lot over the past few months and I think the next 12 months, where a lot of companies who didn’t follow this philosophy of, “Can we break even as soon as possible? Can we tighten things up?” are going to have issues fundraising or go out of business. If they have issues fundraising, commonly they’re going to maybe get sold for pennies on the dollar or completely go out of business, which unfortunately we have seen already in the market, not necessarily with our clients, fortunately. A lot of our clients did follow these best practices here and we were helpful in that process, but a lot of folks I know and companies I’m a personal investor in are experiencing this now and the next 6 to 12 months is going to be pretty brutal for everyone.
Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (04:36):
As you think about growing, as leaders grow companies here, how do you think personal growth comes into play as an entrepreneur, as a business leader in growing your company?
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (04:46):
Yeah, there is actually a quote from the founder of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, I really resonate with on this area. He talks about how if your company’s growing at this rate, and if you’re just listening and not watching I’m just pointing up and to the right, your personal growth has to be at a higher slope, basically growing even faster than your company. And really I think the wisdom there is that in order to maintain understanding of your business, let alone managing more people and the more complexity that’s introduced into 10s or 100s of people collaborating together to build something and provide a service to customers, you have to also figure out how to fit your business in your mind. And so, you have to basically be growing at a far faster rate, where you are almost ahead of the curve. And so you’re thinking about the next steps still as a founder and entrepreneur trying to build a business.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (05:43):
Usually I think depending on your funding class and how you’ve built the company, this actually tends to be a little bit easier for companies that are bootstrapped and companies that don’t have to scale at a certain rate. So if you started, let’s say, a restaurant or a smaller business that doesn’t need to scale at a, let’s say, 100% growth rate year over year, this part of the game tends to be a little bit easier, although still very important. But if you are a founder of a venture-backed company, for instance, where your job is to effectively double, triple the company every few years and you’ve gone from being a single or two or three founders in a company to 10s and 100s of people working there, you really, really have to build this muscle of. “How do I grow with the organization in a way that I, as a founder, I’m still valuable and making the right decisions.”
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (06:36):
Otherwise, if you have the best intentions for the business, let’s say three, four years in, there was 500 people working for you and you just seem to not be the right CEO or the right founder anymore to run it and you have the best intentions, which is trying to continue growing the business and providing value to the investors and the customers that you brought on, then the best path is to just hire someone to run the business for you, which does happen. And in fact, some of the biggest companies that you experience today went through a similar path, because the growth rate was so fast that they couldn’t maintain that or they just were not interested in learning how to operationalize the business. And I think the best obvious examples are Google hired Eric Schmidt pretty early on to run the business, as the founders focused on technology. And Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook hired Sheryl Sandberg to operationalize the business and scale it up, as he kept focusing on products and engineering.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (07:35):
So, it is very hard and I think not a lot of people are capable of it, including myself. I think, I’m not sure if you put me in a business that was scaling up 100, 200% year-over-year for 10 years straight, I would be able to maintain that necessarily, and I think it’s a pretty hard endeavor. And imagine a lot of people that end up in these scenarios, they’re in their mid-20s or early 30s, where really you’ve just had a few years as a conscious human being on planet earth. Your brain is really developed by 26, 27 it seems like. And so, it’s got to be very hard to do this stuff. I feel quite humbled. I have a few friends that have achieved this where they’re running, let’s say, 2, 3000 person organizations and they’re in their early 30s or late 20s and it’s just quite inspiring to see it, but they’ve just gone through so much work internally to be able to do it.
Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (08:26):
Let’s talk about some of the frameworks that you use or that you think about in growing businesses.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (08:33):
Yeah, so I come from an engineering background, so technically I’m a programmer before I became a marketer. So, this is probably going to sound a little bit rigid, but it just has worked for us and my co-founders follow the same philosophy on this. And generally speaking, I would say it’s what the Silicon Valley type companies follow, which is basically a framework of experimentation, and not experimentation for the experimentation’s sake, but a scientific approach to attempting to learn about your market enough that you can compound those learnings, with a big caveat that it’s not as scientific in the sense that you’re not going to get statistical significance on the tests that you’re running, but rather there is a process where over time you can compound learnings and understand what works and what doesn’t in the specific market you’re in and how to scale up your efforts.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (09:27):
And really what I’m talking about is let’s say you are running ads on Facebook, or Meta these days, [inaudible 00:09:33] what it’s called, you want to understand what are the pieces of creative that your audience is attracted to the most and they’re most likely to click on them and make a purchase or become a lead or whatever the goal of your campaigns are. In order to understand that, you can’t just throw a bunch of ideas at the wall and if one of them works, you figured it out, because there’s a couple of things. One is that people get bored and tired of seeing the same ad, and there’s also machine learning, targeting apparatus underneath these things. So when Meta looks at the same ad over time, it’s not able to scale it up to the whole population. And so you really do have to continuously produce creative to maintain your reach and your, let’s say, purchase volume.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (10:19):
So really what you want to do is create a process such that as you are running these ads, as you put out ideas, you’re able to walk away with not only I got a reasonable cost per purchase, but also I learned that if I have a three-second hook that talks about this part of the pain point, it seems to me that people are more likely to purchase. And you go through this process over and over again, and over time you’ll end up with these combinations of approaches that end up working for your audience or for a subset of your audience.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (10:54):
For instance, one of the examples I have that I like a lot is a company we used to work with for a few years called Sonder. They’re a distributed hotel and we were helping them through the pandemic, because they’re hotels, they were having a really hard time and they needed to open up a new channel of acquisition for their hotel rooms. And they were specifically going after nurses and doctors that needed to shelter in place for instance. And we learned that the best way to present their product or inventory of hotels was to showcase that the hotels all had kitchens, that they had pretty large windows, so you felt pretty open in the space. And if there were pools, we also showed the pools. If these two or three things were in the video, and then we also hit on a few points where it came to the cleanliness of the place, how often things were sterilized and so on, we were able to get very, very great cost per purchases or return on ad spend.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (11:56):
And we discovered that through this long iterative process. It took months to get to what sounds very obvious, but in terms of cinematography, photography and how to show this stuff, it turned out to be a very specific way of showing the hotel rooms. And we discovered this through this iterative process and we do this across other aspects of marketing as well. So this was, let’s say, creative production and understanding or creative works, but you can do the; apply the same underlying process on what is the right audience to reach, given your stage of your company and given the stage of your product and its futures. Can you go to the mass market? Is there a niche audience that you should go after first before you get to the mass market? Those can all fall within some sort of an experimentational process, where you test out ideas, you put some effort and money behind those ideas and then use the data that comes back to iterate on them and get better over time.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (12:55):
And of course the thing with experimentation, and this is why it’s not scientific in the way that maybe we would like it to be, in that people change, the markets change, the auctions of these ad networks change. And so whatever we discover has a shelf life in our experience. So we might have discovered those factors for Sonder a few years ago, but I bet you if we were running ads again on that market, those things would likely not generalize and continue working. So, we have to continuously run this process, but there is some longevity with the ideas that work, and at least we have a systemic approach, such that we can learn from the tests and stick to what’s been working for as long as those things continue to work.
And we usually have some sort of a recurring experimentational approach, where we think that this may be continuing to work, so let’s just test it again to make sure that it works in the market. And it turns out there’s different fatigue rates on ideas and creative things get fatigued faster depending on your market, depending on the consumers that you’re going after. Or it just depends on the overall time of year. There’s a lot of factors, but as long as you have this overall process, you can end up learning enough that you can have success. And for us, we spend tens of millions of dollars, close to a hundred million dollars a year, and this process has worked for us across all of these budgets, across different industries and different markets. So we’re pretty confident that such a process works, but honestly, we didn’t come up with it. It’s something that a lot of these companies were using not in marketing, but rather in product development, turns out.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (14:34):
It was an approach that, let’s say, the Facebooks and the Googles of the world were using in product development and really what was called growth units, where they were trying to grab the traffic and convert it better, but we’re just grabbing that process and then going up market and saying, “Can we apply this quasi-scientific,” sometimes we call it evolutionary, “approach to learning what creative is the best creative and the audiences that work and the overall strategy for how to capture people’s attention and bring them onto your site to convert them into customers?” And so I’m a big believer in that, but I think that what I believe the most is not necessarily this specific process, is that there should be a process in place for how you’re thinking about your approach to marketing and growing your company overall.
Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (15:21):
Thank you for sharing that detail, and this is a great time in the program here, Nima, where we like to make a transition. We ask every guest the same four questions before they go. And the first question is; have you had a miss or two on your journey and something you learned from it?
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (15:35):
Well, the answer is definitely yes. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 19. I’m in my 30s now, so this is my third company. And so I’ve had a couple of misses, to say the least, and I think the biggest one probably is that I came up with what is now Instacart back in maybe 2011. Instacart maybe just started the year after. And we tried it out in the city Toronto and the Instacart founder actually was a Canadian as well and ended up even having a conversation with him about his business later on, because we had stepped out of his business and it was just such a scary business to me at the time, that we just stopped working on it. But in hindsight, obviously it’s still a tough business, I think they’re having a tough time and they’re going to go public, but it’s a really low margin business to run.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (16:19):
And I don’t think I had it in me to run it then and likely I still don’t have it in me to run that type of a business, but that was probably one of the biggest misses. And I’ve had plenty of other mini products we’ve built that ended up becoming multi-billion dollar companies, just not our version of it and so on. I think the biggest learning there has just been to keep focusing on the customer and not coming up with the solutions out of our pockets instead of talking to people and seeing if the solution’s working. I think I just did not have that muscle in my 20s. There’s a lot of arrogance that comes with wanting your ideas to be the ones that work, as opposed to the ones that actually solve problems. You don’t have to come up with them. Your customers quite often commonly come up with them and you can rely on feedback to build things, and it took me nearly a decade to learn that and so lots of misses on the way.
Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (17:12):
Thank you for sharing those. And on the other side, let’s talk about a make or two that you’d like to highlight.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (17:18):
Yeah, I think the biggest one is just the company we built. I help run Pearmill. We’re a performance marketing agency. We’re a tech-enabled services business, so we generally operate as an agency in that we help companies grow, but we have a lot of technology, internally, for ourselves or for our clients, where we help them stay competitive in the market by either understanding the landscape. So, a lot of competitive landscape analysis that’s automated by software. Or reducing what I call human error, which is making sure spend is done correctly. Your tracking implementations are still done correctly, landing pages are functioning correctly and so on. So we have a lot of alerting and integrity software for the adsmin that we do, especially because businesses that we work with, generally speaking, are quite reliant on paid as a general channel. Somewhere between 20 to 40% of their sales or customers or leads may be coming from channels that we are operating on. And so a small mistake can cost them a lot of money and potentially cost us a client in the process. So, we’ve done a lot of work to build the right apparatus in terms of alerting and reporting and competitive analysis software to make sure that we’re competitive in the marketplace. I’m probably the most proud of this company, been a pleasure working on it.
Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (18:43):
And let’s talk about a multiplier you’ve used to grow maybe yourself personally or your business.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (18:50):
We can probably go towards the self-growth side here a little bit, because it likely applies across the board, but we had a coach for a couple of years. On the off chance she’s listening, her name’s Anna Maria, and I’m quite grateful to her for coming into our business and helping me and my co-founders really get better at basically two things. One is internal understanding of what is going on inside of our minds and bodies when it comes to the feelings that are associated with the thoughts that we have. And so I think that’s probably the most important muscle, for me personally, that I’ve been really working on building for years, but it’s just taken so long and we don’t need to get into a tangent as to why, but some people have it much earlier in their lives. I think I built it much later in my life. And so, that’s probably number one.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (19:42):
And then number two is just being open to conflict is probably the most useful things I’ve learned as a manager, as a co-founder and really as a partner, with my partner, so in life as opposed to in business. And just being open to having the honest conversations in a kind and loving way and sharing what’s going on inside, in the process, in order to resolve. So conflict in order to get to a resolution, with a hope for a resolution, I think is the biggest learning. And the speed in which you go through these conflicts I think really helps you. As for both a person, but also when you’re running a business, the faster you resolve these conflicts, it turns out that the faster things move and the faster things get better. And so the more open you are to them and the more you lean into the conflicts, the better everyone’s going to feel eventually. It’s just going to be hard to go through the conflict itself.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (20:38):
If I were to borrow a, let’s say, pop culture phrase here from Ryan Holiday, I think, “The struggle is the way,” is what he mentions here, and I think it’s a stoic saying that he’s put together, but I think, although I don’t like his writing, I think that phrase has stayed with me over the years and I only learned how to actually use it much later in life.
Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (21:01):
Thank you for sharing that. And the final question we ask every guest, Nima, is what does success mean to you?
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (21:07):
This has changed for me over my lifetime. I’m an entrepreneur, but I’m really an immigrant, moved from Iran to Canada first and eventually America. And so, what was quite exciting to me about the US and moving here was what maybe is historically referenced as the American Dream. And I do think it’s maybe on its way to a decline, so it’s hard to really associate with it, but I think that was the original success metric for me is to build something and create a life for myself that felt good. But nowadays, I actually care much less about these outcome-based success metrics. And my co-founder actually last night, one of them asked me a similar question and I think my response was something along the lines of, “I want to feel good in my body, strong in my mind, and work on mastering the things I want to be working on.” And so there is really no success metric there. It’s just like, “Can I keep doing what I’m doing as well as I can and fall in love with the process of getting better at things?” And that tends to be what has made me the happiest on this planet.
Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (22:14):
Great. And as we bring this to a close, Nima, is there anything you were maybe hoping to share or get across that you haven’t had a chance to yet?
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (22:20):
No, I think if you’re working on a business, think about this difference between personal growth and your company’s growth. I think they tend to be quite important. We deal with a lot of different types of founders, running a performance marketing agency, where people come to us and they’re looking for all this growth and they’re just not ready for it. Or, because of the sheer amount of stress that comes with growing a company, they’ve built quite toxic cultures in their companies. And we commonly reject clients when our team raises that as an issue, where they think that the culture in the company is, basic we call them anxious-based companies where, because the founder has not resolved their internal state of mind, they express their anxiety through the organization.
Nima Gardideh, Pearmill (23:07):
And so you feel it. You literally talk to people, there is a sense of false agency and false urgency, sorry. And there isn’t a good thought process behind why they’re doing the things that you’re doing. So, that’s one thing. And if you’re hopefully on the other side of this and building companies and trying to grow them, we’re obviously happy to help with folks. So, if you’re looking for a marketing agency or performance marketing agency, you can always reach out to us. We’re at pearmill.com, pearmill.com. And I’m firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to shoot me an email.
Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (23:43):
Nima, thank you so much for a fantastic interview and let’s go ahead and jump into today’s three key takeaways. So takeaway number one is one of those key components we mentioned at the intro of our podcast today, which is experimentation. And I love how he described this, that it’s a way to learn about your market, it’s a more scientific approach. Now, it’s not applying a direct scientific method, but it’s really compounding those learnings to scale up your efforts. And I really summarize one of the parts he said, it’s discovery through an iterative process. I like that idea there, that you’re discovering more. And he said that this experimentation and what you discover has a shelf life, so you’ve got to continuously be testing and improving and this recurring experimentation type process. And he said that they’re spending almost a hundred million dollars a year in marketing to implement programs like this.
Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (24:43):
Takeaway number two is when he said; being open to conflict is one of his multipliers and just being able to have honest conversations in a kind and loving way. Takeaway number three is what he described as his definition of success. And he said originally, they were outcome-based metrics that he used to define success. And he said it’s changed over time and that he wants to feel good in his body, strong in his mind, and constantly be improving at his craft or what he’s interested in at that moment. And now it’s time for today’s win-win.
Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (25:23):
So today’s win-win is when Nima talked about personal growth and that the way for you to continue to scale and grow your business is that your personal growth needs to be at a higher level than what your company is. So as your company scales, your personal growth and leadership needs to scale too. And so your development and growth has to keep developing, has to keep growing. Otherwise your business will peak or plateau, because you have peaked or plateaued, which means that either, you need to replace yourself or keep developing and growing yourself. And I thought that was just a great win-win to highlight today to make sure we’re doing that. And as a leader of my organization, it’s something that I love to do as well. So I have a fascination with leadership development, personal growth. It’s part of the reason I ended up going back to earn my doctorate degree and constantly I’m attending seminars and webinars and presentations and conferences to constantly be gathering a new nugget of information, reading books, doing podcasts like this, listening to podcasts, all of these great resources that are available to us. So, I just think it’s a great little nugget and takeaways that if you’re serious about growing and scaling your business, you also have to be serious about growing and developing yourself.
Dr. Tom DuFore, Big Sky Franchise Team (26:46):
And so that’s the episode today folks. Please make sure you subscribe to the podcast and give us a review. And remember, if you or anyone might be ready to franchise their business or take their franchise company to the next level, please connect with us at bigskyfranchiseteam.com. Thanks for tuning in and we look forward to having you back next week.