Marissa Hills just flew in from Miami. With her carry-on trailing behind her, she strides through the DoubleTree in San Jose in search of the registration desk.
She checks-in, stows her luggage and heads straight to the VIP section, like the other couple hundred travelers who have convened in Silicon Valley for the next two days. Shaking off any residual jet lag, Hills prepares to dive head first into the sea of excitement.
It’s all in pursuit of knowledge, connections, and perhaps free swag from one of the booths that line the hotel hallways. It’s the annual Growth Marketing Conference, and attendees have traveled from near and far to brush elbows with some of the industry’s thought leaders.
Tonight, the champagne flows freely as VIP attendees await dinner in the hotel ballroom, so freely, that they hardly notice when the doors to dinner have finally swung open. Everyone is too busy mingling, clinking, shaking hands to give a hoot.
Hills is a blur of motion, making the rounds and trading industry tips.
“At Skyscanner, we’re encouraged to go outside of our primary expertise and pursue our interests and passions,” she says. “There are so many ideas and techniques shared at these types of events; I’m looking forward to testing what I’ve learned here with the Skyscanner audience.”
In the world of startups and incubators, ingenuity and fresh perspectives are seen as a huge asset. Wielding the industry lingo, Hills chats about the common challenges of growth with Guy Marion, CMO & Head of Business at Autopilot.
Meanwhile, just one table over is Joey DiFranco of Tentcraft, a bonafide marketing maven who traveled from Traverse City, Michigan to be here. Over prosciutto-sprinkled salads and warm bread rolls, he regales his table-mates with tales of his adventures.
“My wife and I were living in Chicago for a decade and realized one day that we hadn’t had a dinner together in two years,” he said, gesturing animatedly. “So we bought a house in the middle of the woods all the way up in Michigan. Originally I was gonna fish and be a stay-at-home dad, but eventually, my old ways called.”
These days, DiFranco co-leads the marketing team for Tentcraft, a promotional outdoor tent company. It seems a fitting fusion of his history in advertising with his more laid-back approach of today.
Just across the table, Brendan Baker, the Senior Manager of SEO for Eventbrite, recommends local sights for attendees to check out in the Bay.
Working for a ticketing company gives him a strong pulse on what’s happening at all times — and he’s full of restaurant recommendations for a dinner guest who just moved to the Mission District in San Francisco.
After ample crusted halibut and apple cake are consumed, the weary travelers, sleepy from the champagne and rich food, head their separate ways.
Some will make it to the late-night mixer at a local nightclub, others hunker down to finish up some work and some hit the hay — they want to be well-rested for the full day tomorrow.
Eric Tucker missed breakfast. He wasn’t up late partying or strolling the city streets; nope, he was on a call with an international client until 4 AM.
He’s used to these late-night-early-morning conferences as a co-founder of Pocketmath, a quickly growing mobile advertising platform.
Tucker grabs a pastry from the spread and tops off his coffee, then it’s off to his first session, on aligning marketing, sales and customer success. The businessman seems especially impressed by the new-age Q&A format that punctuates the end of each session.
Simply submit your questions online and the moderator will read them aloud — none of that distracting mic passing.
Tucker traveled all the way from Boston for the event.
“This is my first Growth Marketing Conference,” he confessed. “Pocketmath has been a bit under the radar so I figured it’s time to venture out to talk to more of Silicon Valley. I haven’t been that involved in the community yet, so I want to get on the ground to see what people are doing.”
For him, networking is the major payoff of attending. “I’d come next year again for sure,” he said. “You don’t need to meet 100 people, only two or three people that really matter.”
Tucker admits that the small workshop format of the day before suited his purposes perfectly — “It allowed greater intimacy with people who are at the decision-making level in their companies, which is really important.”
Then, just like that, he’s off, mingling with a fellow attendee as he brushes the crumbs off his lapel.
After a growth case study with Alight CEO and Founder Adelyn Zhou, it’s time for lunch and to peruse some of the booths — is that a corporate adult coloring book for sale?
Mealtime means fancy brown-bag lunches, just like mom used to make (but much tastier).
As attendees nosh, the entryway is getting crowded.
A man in multicolor furs and gold platform sneakers snakes through the crowd, eyes and whispers following him as he passes. Could he be a celebrity? Maybe he works in fashion?
And speaking of eccentrics, an industry celebrity has just arrived, sporting his signature faux-hawk and mustache, twisted up on the sides.
As he passes by, attendees greet him and shake his hand, their eyes conveying their awe at his presence.
“If I see a lot of people doing one thing, I’m inclined to do the other,” Rand Fishkin says as he reflects on his unique personal style.
“This practice translates into my corporate practices as well; if there’s a common way to do something in a business, I automatically question it. Common practice isn’t always best practice.”
This belief permeates Fishkin’s mode d’emploi and has helped to establish Moz, the company he cofounded in 2004 that sells subscriptions for their marketing analytics software, as a trendsetter in the startup world.
One thing is certain, he is passionate about doing things differently, and this includes his presentations for conferences.
He’s traveled here from Seattle, only his second trip to Silicon Valley this year, which is surprising considering he speaks at around 35 conferences a year.
Another surprising fact?
He never accepts a speaker’s fee, but instead asks organizers to donate to Give Directly, a company that allows donors to give money directly to poor communities and people.
“I also always ask organizers for the percentage of speakers that are women,” he said.
“Onstage, that’s the place where we can disrupt this space and demonstrate that it’s not just a platform for white men to have their voices heard.”
Fishkin continues, “It’s all about representation. You have to demonstrate that there are people ‘like you’ who do this, especially considering that tech is one of the few ways to change your economic status in the U.S.”
For his closing keynote, which capped off the two-day conference, Fishkin walked through his personal entrepreneurial journey. “We entrepreneurs are given more credit than we really deserve; great entrepreneurs operate from a place of humility and hope.”
Fishkin said he hopes that the audience realizes that “growth for its own sake” is not a sustainable model. “You need to build a business that can survive and be profitable, and those two factors can’t be sacrificed in the name of growth.”
Right before he addressed the hundreds of people eagerly awaiting his words of wisdom, Fishkin paused to reflect once again, this time on the conference.
“I’m hoping that the folks in the audience participate in the same self-reflexive exercise I did,” he said pensively. “No one builds a startup by himself, no matter how amazing you might be.”
Soaking up Fishkin’s words—and the last of their beverages—attendees from all walks of the corporate world left with one commonly held belief: growth marketing isn’t just for startups anymore, but for anyone looking to expand both their company and their ways of thinking.
It’s all about bringing people together, from founders to first-timers, to work through the daily challenges of transforming an idea into an enterprise.
As referenced in the opening speech, “Growth marketing isn’t this magical Silicon Valley spell that turns garage-based startups into overnight superstars—it’s just matching data-driven strategies and tactics with forward-thinking innovation and creativity.”
And of course, having a healthy appetite for endless experimentation doesn’t hurt.
“Whether you’re a startup or an enterprise, that’s the secret sauce.”
Have an experience from a past Growth Marketing Conference that you’d like to share? Tweet us and use hashtag #GrowthMarketingConf for a chance to get featured.
PS: Have you heard? 2017 is the year of growth.
And that means it’s going to be a very busy time for Growth Marketing Conference. This year, we’ll be hosting events in:
And you’re invited!
Don’t miss your chance to experience the Growth Marketing Conference first hand in a location near you.