Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi team, my name is Gilbert and I’m the CEO at Leaf Grow, a simple, powerful automation and insights platform for Facebook Ads Network. We are driven by the promise to make paid-social seamless and effective at scale, empowering brands of all sizes to grow and make the most of their potential.
We have learned that paid social is a difficult beast to handle, but when done right, paid social can deliver amazing results to brands and companies regardless of their size. We got started in the music industry and found that the same basic principles that apply to promote and build audiences for musicians apply to brands and commerce alike; in the end, we are all competing in the same space for attention from the right people, at the right time.
Since we got started we have been growing double digits month on month, delivering material performance gains to businesses all around the world, helping not only increase their revenue but helping them approach growth in a more systematic and integrated form. Maybe we can say that in less than a year we are 20% short of breakeven? with a team of 15.
Our mission with Leaf is to drive long-term value and create market opportunities for brands on a global scale and it’s this reason why we turn up every day to help you deliver on yours.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Leaf got started as a consumer-play offering music fans a different kind of music experience in the form of Leaf Music, one that would put the artist at the center (vs the playlist of most other services) and one where sharing your favorite music was built in its DNA. We wanted to connect fans and artists together and in doing it, to give artists a direct way to engage, grow and monetize their fanbases. Little did we know that the very same foundation we build to help us grow Leaf Music would become the future of the company in the form of Leaf Grow, and that just as we helped musicians and their teams to reach the right people at the right time, we would go helping brands, commerce, and companies of all sizes to deliver on their growth objectives by empowering to reach and engage their perfect customers.
When we started Leaf Music we didn’t know anything about marketing, the founding team was product people and as such, we took a very engineering approach to marketing. Using as a starting point a hypothesis about who our target customer would look like, very soon we found that acquiring customer was expensive, very expensive, and knew that for it to work we needed to nail down the right audience really quick, one that would find our offering perfect for their needs and one that would allow us to scale.
Make it profitable, then scale. Focusing a profitable business from the get-go will give you the right blueprint for when the time is right to scale.
We built python scripts that would allow us to iterate through these hypotheses fast, crunch the data and guide us in the direction we needed to evolve. This constant refinement gave us a leap forward and soon we were delivering growth at a fraction of the cost of most other advertisers both on Facebook as on Twitter. Facebook wrote a case study about us, invited us over to Palo Alto to accelerate our approach and there and then we realize that we have had created was special.
Leaf Grow became our vehicle to share with others what we had built, the growth engine that propelled us to become one of the main music services in Latin America, the same engine that would allow artists big and small to double the performance of their promotion campaigns and deliver sold-out campaigns for both merch, releases and tours; more often than not, breaking the internal benchmarks of their labels, majors and indies.
Describe the process of launching the business.
It all started with a set of simple questions:
- What are your objectives?
- What are you trying to achieve?
- What are you trying to solve?
Answering these questions over and over allowed us to start with the right foundation, we then put one developer behind it, then 2 and before we realized the whole company was behind it. Building software solutions for people that are not techies is tricky because it pushes you to be empathic right from the start, to put yourselves in their shoes and see the world through their lenses. It also forces you to have two-way communication with them and looking for the right solution to their problems. Knowing what falls under your realm and what doesn't. Knowing when to commit and when to say no.
Our process is a constant iteration of hypothesis, assumptions, and proofs, always striving to make paid-social seamless and deliver on sustainable and scalable results.
We operate as one team with many voices, just because you don’t write code doesn’t mean you don’t seat at the tech table and the other way around. Making team members collaborate across departments has allowed us to see the world from the other side of the street and empower you to change.
We started small with 1 developer because we were still defining the playing field, also there were conflicting directions at the board level. Leaf had been funded as a music company and here we were talking about an ad-tech that was born from our own necessity and that was helping us and shaping itself to be the driver of our original mission, to empower musicians to engage, grow and monetize fanbases. it took us a few months to get to a decision and when I did, then was a clean-cut from there onwards.
I've read some places that you cannot do these changes half-hearted you need to go all in to give it the best chances of success and that's what we did, despite a recommendation from the board to do otherwise.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Quality of service. People would be surprised how far could the quality of service take your business. Everyone wants to feel special, like someone cares for them and providing your customers a premium service delivers just that, it pushes you to be on your toes and deliver customers on your promise.
For us providing such service has made it so that word of mouth is the #1 growth driver, people who refer others would go to become long term users of our service and those that come referred more often than not will convert at 4x the rate of those who approach us through other channels.
We have kept Leaf Grow flying under the radar for the most part of this year, honing and tuning the service, for us is all about the quality of the results and the scale of them, working closely with Facebook has allowed us to make sure our solution is built to withstand the time and changes of an ever-evolving platform, enabling us to adapt and adopt changes just as fast as they happen and passing this power forward to our customers.
We've only started exploring partnerships but for the most part, it's been mostly word of mouth, super-targeted LinkedIn biz dev (meaning looking for people similar to other people or on the space) so we could get intros. but nothing yet at mass.
Doing content marketing or any of those things takes a lot of time and effort, also it takes for granted that you know who your target audience is, given we are constraints in resources (don't have time to invest in content other than content to support our users) then focus on quality of service has been key. this also means we learn closer from our users what they need and who they are. I am guessing this will allow us to create content sometime in the near future. but we wouldn't have done it right if we would have started there.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Leaf Grow was a pivot away from Leaf Music, it came towards the end of our funding cycle and as such, we had a concrete wall right in front of us approaching at light speed. Making the decision to change course and focus on Leaf Grow allowed us to pursue the one thing we knew we were better than anyone else and we knew there was an opportunity in making available to others.
Leaf should have died at the end of February 2019, it’s October and we are not just alive and kicking but we have been able to do it while retaining the majority of the team.
Being humble means you are always looking for new answers, to be proven wrong so you can know what’s right.
We have been growing double digits since the start and keep adding new customers on a daily basis, from big brands to upstarts, we are excited with the positive impact we can bring to businesses in helping them build sustainable and scalable growth.
The future looks bright and with the uprising of the Direct to Consumer the world is our oyster, we are happy to have built a solution that can scale with our customers, to keep iterating with every single one of them and to be able to share with all of them the learning we gain by working with others. It’s in driving this collective of growth that every one of its members accelerates its growth.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Be humble. Stay naive. Thinking that you know it all and or that you have made it is more often than not the beginning to the end. Being Humble means you are always looking for new answers, to be proven wrong so you can know what’s right; staying naive will give you the fresh pair of eyes you need to be able to see change, hold it and run with it, until it changes again.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Leaf Grow seats on top of the Facebook Ads Network, we work against the very same infrastructure that Facebook’s own Business Ads Manager which means we pass the same efficiency (while shielding for the misbehaviors) to our users.
Our stack is built on React, Google Firebase and Now. Our public website seats on top of Squarespace and Crisp makes sure we are in real-time contact with our customers. Figma, Jira and Slack seat at the core of our foundation. Stripe takes care of payments and Xero of our accounts. Overall we are tight ship and continue to deliver growth while remaining lean.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Many, I am always reading and always listening, I wouldn’t say there is one book that has influenced me the most, it is the collective wisdom of all them that have allowed me to create the world view I have, that plus traveling, talking to people (strangers and old acquaintances). Different perspectives will give you the frame of mind to see the world different enough that soon enough you will learn to see patterns that repeat and in it, you will find answers.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Treat your company as a business from the get-go. Most people start their endeavors as projects, the problem with that is that it might push you in directions that otherwise, you will not take if you were to treat it as a proper business. Proper business is boring, meaning that if you learn to put up with the boring stuff upfront you will be gaining the time you need to focus on the interesting stuff later, do it the other way around and you will always be chasing the next “what if”.
Make it profitable, then scale. Most people think the VC-play is the only game to play and as news of late have shown, VC-plays of winner takes all are prompt to do things that might break you, your team and your customers, focusing a profitable business from the get-go will give you the right blueprint for when the time is right to scale, it will push you to prove there is a viable business to build and one worth investing in. Worst case scenario it fails and so you can focus on the next big thing. Chances are it works and you might not need external funding or if you do, it puts you in a very different position than those whose proposition is just its “potential”.
Culture first or hire slow, fire fast. You want to make sure you build the right team around you, one that shares the same principles and values as you do, one that will withstand the hardships of building a successful company. Anything worth building will struggle at some point or the other as you will get the resistance fighting its chance to prove you are wrong, the people around you will be key for you to make it through. Every single person in your team has to pull their weight and every single one of them has to justify their existence in the team.
Read the data. Trust your gut. Make a decision. Every single person you will meet will have an opinion about what you need to do next. Many investors are good at providing their opinions based on a couple of data points in a slide or just after 2min of talking, trust yourself, learn how to listen, read between the lines, then go back to the drawing board and test your assumptions against the data; then make a decision and stick with it enough so that it gets a fair chance to succeed, rinse and repeat. More often than not you have all the inputs to make the right decision, you just need to learn to trust yourself and stick with it.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We hire slow and make sure the team that we build is the right one for the challenges in front of us, as such we are always meeting potential candidates.
We are currently planning to bring on board a few new members to help us with sales, customer success and data insights. If you live and breath to help others succeed and place your purpose in helping others deliver on their objectives then we want to talk to you.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
Interested in sharing your own story? Find out how!
Are you ready to boost your revenue?
Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!
Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!