What You Learn from Hypergrowth: 3 Years at Hopin

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What You Learn from Hypergrowth: 3 Years at Hopin

An early team member’s story — one that’s not over yet.

What You Learn from Hypergrowth: 3 Years at Hopin
Johnny and me, October 2019 in London at the Tech Expo Event

This is my third long-form update on the story of the software company Hopin and the lessons I’ve learned as its first full-time team member. This week I celebrated three years at the company.

If you haven’t read the first two posts, you can find the links below. I cover how I met founder Johnny Boufarhat, how the company started in 2019, what the early days were like, what it was like when the pandemic hit, what hyperscaling feels like, and more:

This update is different from the first two as it picks up where the last one left off, telling the Hopin story from 2021 up to now, September 2022.

For anyone who knows of Hopin, you’ve probably heard words like “rocketship” and “Hopin speed” to describe the company’s journey to date. There’s a reason for that.

In 2020, we are in the thick of the pandemic. A fully remote company, we hire hundreds of employees at an unprecedented velocity in a matter of months from over 45 countries.

We are called Europe’s fastest-growing startup of all time. Johnny fundraised close to a billion dollars in a little more than a year. Customers pour in from the world’s most renowned brands, including Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, The United Nations, Dell, Amazon, and the list goes on.

We acquired five companies in our first two years.

In 2021, our company culture grew like wildfire, fueled by untamed ambition and seemingly limitless demand from a pandemic-stricken events industry. We gobble up market share and jaw-drop investors with our growth rates, and delight customers with the speed of our feature releases and service.

We were unstoppable.

Or so we thought.

Holeshot is a term used in motocross to describe the first racer to get through the apex of the first turn. Getting the holeshot gives the rider a huge competitive advantage and some level of control in the race. In most cases, the rider who gets the holeshot also wins the race.

Holeshot is the title I would give to Hopin’s first chapter. Our timing was serendipitous. We were well-positioned to adapt to an unplanned force majeure in the market — better than most. Now, as the pandemic gives way to a subsequent recession, chapter one is coming to a close and chapter two is beginning.

But the book of Hopin has just begun. Typical companies that go public take about 8 to 10 years between their founding date and IPO date. Hopin sped ahead in the early days in many ways, but the race is not over.

Today, Hopin has a clear vision, a battle-tested team, and miles of runway to execute, thanks to the prescience of our leadership team. Many companies‚—Netflix, Slack, Amazon, Instagram, and many others—underwent fundamental transformations before becoming what they are today. Why can’t Hopin be the same?

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” — Charles Darwin

As 2022 unfolds, hypergrowth at Hopin turns. Many of us are still caught up in the “pinch me this is real” thrill of a skyrocketing business. Meanwhile, teams and systems keep scaling. New managers come in from top companies and with them their people and processes to boot.

A common internal phrase at the company is that it feels like a new job every month. We had exponentially grown in size. Every week welcomes a new wave of recruits, sometimes 50 per week. Teams double, triple, and more in a matter of months. We hopscotch on the thin line between constant change and chaos.

One day, an extended leadership team meeting was called and the leadership team says we can’t keep growing like this. Hypergrowth doesn’t last forever and we need to prepare for the slowdown to a normal growth rate. We pause hiring.

As 2022 continues, the pandemic fades. The demand for virtual solutions returns to Hopin’s pre-pandemic days. But that’s not all. Other macroeconomic conditions crop up, including the Russia-Ukraine war and an impending global recession.

Marketing spend is cut. We knew the end of COVID was coming and with it the heightened demand for virtual offerings, but we don’t know how fast it will come. We work to anticipate what the future of events — and Hopin — will look like and prepare to come out stronger on the other side.

In the end, Hopin, like many companies in the tech industry, undergoes reorganization to streamline its operations and refocus its vision. The company says goodbye to dear teammates, rallies around its new vision as a multiproduct company, and invests in becoming a long-term sustainable business.

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” — Christine Caine

Hopin has always done things a little differently than your typical startup.

One of the most unique things Hopin has done, as mentioned before, is making five acquisitions in its first two years of being a startup itself.

If you think about it, outside of StreamYard, we haven’t been very public about what these acquisitions mean for the future of Hopin.

To date, Hopin is still largely known as a virtual events platform. But the future of Hopin is much more than that. Eric Ries said that “a pivot is a change in strategy but not a change in vision — ” but Hopin is not pivoting away from events. It’s actualizing its original vision, an ambitious one that Johnny has always had.

This is what we’ve been tinkering on in the background for the last year or so.

The Hopin Events product is a vital part of the portfolio, but Events are only a piece of the fuller picture. All of Hopin’s products, including Events, do much more: they help people create connections and build community through experiences — something you’re going to hear more about in Hopin’s Chapter Two.

When does Chapter Two start? Before the end of this year.

Personally, I’m excited about this next chapter, as many others are as well. The future of Hopin is bright. The vision is clear. The market opportunity is huge. Again, we’re just getting started.

Note: I’m aware that I’m not sharing details. And as much as it pains the writer in me from an editorial perspective, I have to let my role and responsibilities at Hopin take the lead here and keep our plans confidential, as much of the work I’m involved with at Hopin is not public.

As I’ve done in previous updates, here is a smattering of a few lessons I’ve picked up that I’ll leave you with. Hope they’re helpful.

These are my personal views about what I’ve learned at Hopin and do not reflect the views or policies of the company in any way.

Table of contents
1. Titles don't matter
2. Overhiring vs. underhiring
3. Where's the data?
4. Marketing and Product alignment
5. Structuring a marketing team

1. You can drive without a title.

I’ve been hired over three times at Hopin.

Early on, I asked to remain in a leadership role. But I was told no, I was too unqualified. I was told to not worry about titles and just do good work. It stings at first — getting hired over again and again. But I understood. I didn’t have the pedigreed CV of other tech leaders being hired. I was just a scrappy entrepreneur and writer before Hopin. What did I know about hyperscaling a SaaS startup?

Soon, Hopin grew to a size where scrappy didn’t fit anymore — we were a big-time company now. We were corporate.

So I put my head down and did just that — good work. I joined a few other product teams and learned about more sides of the business. I cared only about growth. My influence in the company dropped but I didn’t care, I was just happy to have a job at Hopin. I was learning all I could and enjoying the people with whom I got to work.

Today, Hopin is different. I may have the title now but frankly, I couldn’t care less. It doesn’t change anything. I’ve learned that your work speaks for itself. When I wasn’t given the title, it hurt my pride but it ultimately allowed me to focus on doing my best work, to learn from my weaknesses and to lean into my strengths. Confidence doesn’t come from carrying a title, it comes from knowing your impact.

2. Overhiring is more painful than underhiring.

If possible, keep the team small. Let people wear multiple hats, teach them more skills, and ride out the busy seasons. If needed, leverage agencies and contractors before hiring full-time. This is much easier to manage nimbly. One mentor told me that it’s much less expensive to spin up and spin down a contractor than it is to hire and fire an employee.

3. Data is difficult when you’re going through hypergrowth.

There were countless meetings where new managers would come in and ask “where’s the data”? Where’s the data? And the answer was always the same. It was already out of date, and barely useful. When you join a startup in hypergrowth, you can expect this. Things are moving too fast. So what do you do when there’s not enough data to make a decision? 👇

  • Uncertainty is solved with action. Without data, you can still test and experiment. You can take a calculated risk and quickly learn from it. The phrase “fail forward” is used in the startup space to show this.

“You learn more in 3 days of taking action than in 6 months of researching.” — Anonymous

I’d take scrappy results over “strategic” non-results every day.

If the word “tactic” becomes too “beneath” someone, they may not be a good fit for a hypergrowth startup. At a hypergrowth startup, it’s all hands on deck and leadership should always be willing to pitch in and lend a customer-facing hand. Anybody can call a meeting, create an internal doc or deck, or define a process, but if it doesn’t make a material impact on customers, the business, or the market, it’s a non-result.

  • To stay scrappy, think in deliverables. Begin with the end in mind. Don’t overplan, overanalyze, or over-research. Maintain an action-bias. Take risks and responsibility. Do things yourself. Take initiative. Have autonomy and ownership. There are no right answers. Decide. Test, test, test. Learn and iterate rapidly.

Most of my years at Hopin have been working at the intersection of go-to-market (esp. marketing) and product teams. This was a whole new world to me, but being a newcomer, here’s what I wish I knew starting out.

Marketing and Product alignment is critical.

I’m going to upset a few marketing folks here so let me caveat this by saying every company is different, but I firmly believe Marketing is a support function to Product. Marketing is here to beat the drum of Product in your market. Everything Marketing does, should be to the benefit of, and in coordination with, Product.

  • In the same breath, Marketing and Product are a beautiful partnership, egalitarian and full of growth, processes, and passion. If one dominates or disconnects from the other, it’s the business that suffers. Put another way, Marketing and Product are two ends of a barbell — if one plate falls off, the other one throws the business off kilter.

If Marketing is a support function of Product, then what are marketers supposed to do?

Raj Sarkar, who worked as a product marketing manager (PMM) at Google, led marketing at Atlassian, and now serves as CMO at 1Password, wrote about one approach to marketing-led growth called “Outbound Fury.”

Outbound Fury had a huge role to play towards the success of well-known SaaS products like Slack, Dropbox, Trello, Confluence, and Intercom.

As your startup scales, try to maintain an “Outbound Fury” approach to marketing. The bigger the marketing team gets, the harder it is to execute.

Definition of Outbound Fury

In short, Sarkar recommends brands opt for regular, frequent, small marketing efforts over occasional, large, expensive, marketing efforts. Not only does this greatly reduce your marketing spend, it also forces the marketing team to be more creative, more generalist.

  • Be a marketing generalist, not a specialist. Do what you need to do to be masters of your products and historians of your customers. No silos. No territorialism. No egos. Be multi-disciplinarian. Go outside your job description. Overcommunicate and collaborate with short toes.

Hopin’s marketing team started with one person (✋) and scaled up to 45 team members at its peak.

If I could go back, knowing what I know now, these are the roles I’d hire for at a company like Hopin.

Caveat — every company is different and there are no right answers; every team should be tailored to its product, industry, leadership, etc.

  • First marketing hire: Head of Marketing — start here. Someone who can do it all if they have to, and rely on agencies and contractors to move fast where they’re weak.
  • Second marketing hire: Product Marketing Manager. Handles release marketing, competitor differentiation, and messaging and positioning. This person tells the story of the product and should think like an entrepreneur.
  • Third marketing hire: Growth Marketing Manager. Works hand-in-hand with Product to design growth loops: acquisition, retention, and monetization. Also does customer marketing.
  • Fourth marketing hire: Brand Marketing Manager. Manages content, campaigns, website, social, and copywriting.
  • That’s it.

What about email marketing? SEO? Content marketing? Demand gen? Digital? Partnerships?

The list of marketing “specialities” goes on but my answer to who does all of these is the same: “The team” — plus maybe some contractors or agencies. Everyone shares in these responsibilities and they should all be tackled with collaborative autonomy.

Many hands don’t make light work. Many hands complicate and slow down the work. Stay collaborative, stay generalist. It all depends on who you hire; another reason to hire slowly.

Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful in your own journey as a startup builder. What would you add? Leave a comment below.

Look for my next Hopin update here on Medium by subscribing to Entrepreneur’s Handbook or follow me on Twitter for more day-to-day updates.

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Author: Dave Schools