On the Platform: Entrepreneur & Fractional CMO Erin Blaskie on the Evolution of Growth Marketing
Slack Developer Advocate Shay DeWael sits down with Erin Blaskie to explore the future of growth marketing in the post-COVID world
Erin Blaskie was only six years old when she got her first computer, a Commodore 64 that her dad brought home for the family. When it came to computers, the Blaskies always seemed to have the latest and greatest, even if they weren’t, as she says, the kind of family that could afford it.
Like a lot of people from our generation, Erin got off to an early start in the blogging realm. LiveJournal led to Open Diary, Open Diary to GeoCities, GeoCities to MySpace. It didn’t take long before she realized what we all did: The internet was going to completely change the ways that we create, nurture, and maintain communities.
Today, Erin Blaskie is a consultant and serial entrepreneur that has worked with over 300 businesses. This year, she’s stepping out on her own once more, launching a Fractional CMO firm dedicated to helping startups, marketing teams, and VCs leverage the power of the internet to nurture community-led growth.
For the second installment of our On the Platform interview series, I sat down with Erin to talk about the lessons and challenges that 2020 brought to the growth marketing game, as well as what it was like to launch an all-new Slack Community chapter in her home town of Ottawa.
The following is a condensed transcript of our interview; Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve spent the last 15 years doing marketing work for various companies and personal brands, many of them in Silicon Valley. How did you find your fit in the startup community? What is it that you like about that atmosphere?
I started my first company in 2004. Back then I was bidding on projects through Elance (now Upwork). My first Silicon Valley client was this guy with an ebook company. He had one about beauty secrets, and another about Texas hold ’em tips. He took a very simple idea, and with the marketing plan we came up with, it wasn’t long before he was making bank.
It was really fascinating watching companies like these grow from the ground up. I got this incredible passion from these people about the power of internet marketing. I saw firsthand what an enormous role marketing can play in growth.
I love the early days, the “art of the start”. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, and I’ve always been drawn to entrepreneurs in general. It’s like a gravitational pull.
You’re no stranger to working remotely. What lessons have you had to learn to make it all work?
I worked remotely for a long time before I landed at Fellow. But honestly, I wasn’t always good at the time management thing. It’s been something of a journey.
I had my first daughter while I was working remotely for my first business. Overnight, my life changed a lot in terms of what I had to balance and how much time I had to balance it in. I had to get really good at project management, and quickly.
The first thing I learned was about systems and processes. Everything needs to be systemized. Everything needs a process in place.
Delegation is the second thing, and I learned that one really late. When forming this new company, I knew that I wasn’t going to go it alone like last time. The first three calls that I made were to an accountant, a lawyer, and a virtual assistant.
Boundaries are another huge key. With remote work, it’s so easy to bleed the lines. There’s no 9 to 5 anymore; It’s all amorphous. With both my clients and my team, I just need to be cognizant and shut the laptop at some point, so I can give that time to my family
It seems like everyone is looking for that ‘miracle app’ that will solve all their problems, and maybe make remote work a little easier. Can you recommend an app that has made your life easier?
For me, and probably for a lot of other people, the remote working environment is not going away. My clients are all over the place, so all the conversations are going to keep happening virtually.
For this reason, absolutely everything I do stems from Slack. Between all my clients and projects … I can’t even tell you how many Slack channels I’m in.
But what I really love is looking for other apps that can sync into my ecosystem. ClickUp is a product management tool that syncs beautifully with Slack. I also still use Fellow for meeting agendas and meeting notes. That one I can’t live without.
Earlier this year you shared your passion for Slack with your hometown of Ottawa, by opening a new local chapter of Slack Community. What was it like to grow a community in the midst of a pandemic?
It was great to bring something unique to the city. Along with my co-lead, Alexandra Sunderland, we were able to host two in-person events before the pandemic set-in. We tried to get a broad collection of Slack enthusiasts together. With my marketing background, I was able to find people who just love the platform and want to learn more. Meanwhile, Alexandra is an engineer and was able to capture the heavier technical crowd, the people who were building workflows.
Ottawa doesn’t have as much of a startup scene, so we had to really explore our demographic. Fortunately, Shopify is located here, and that became a great anchor for us in terms of a partner and a venue. We also tapped all the accelerators on the shoulders, and brought their people in.
The pandemic hit, and obviously, that changed everything. We started hosting virtual events, but not as many as we would have liked. The turnout was great, and we were able to find some great speakers.
Speaking of post-pandemic, what’s your vision of the future? How do you think the world is going to change in terms of the way we do work?
For the first time in a really long time, we’ve all had an opportunity to put our priorities in perspective, and see what’s really important. We’ve been able to understand and feel the work-life balance like never before.
One thing that needs to change is the sheer number of meetings and calls in general. Before the pandemic, we were handling a lot of quick things via phone, email, or Slack. Now, video is the default for everything. We need to make sure that we’re saving time for deep work, which means shutting off the distractions and notifications. That can be hard, but it just requires more boundary setting.
It’s going to be interesting as we move out of the pandemic to see what happens to different companies. We’re already seeing the articles coming out, about companies saying “It’s time to come back into the office” and employees saying, “Nah”. These people are quitting their jobs because they don’t want to go back to the way things used to be done.
Post-pandemic, companies that have hybrid or remote-first environments need to focus on intentionality.
Have you seen any examples of this kind of intentionality working really well?
I think for most of us we’re still in an experimentation phase. I’ve seen a lot of people try stuff on, but some people are really leading the charge.
It’s just about having someone on the team who is focused on the aspect of remote work, or just culture in general. GitHub is a great example that comes to mind. Darren Murph, oh my gosh. He’s their Head of Remote. It makes so much sense to have that position.
Shopify is another great example. When the COVID restrictions hit us in Ottawa, they went immediately to digital-first, and they’re staying that way. They’ve already let go of a bunch of their office space, which is now being turned into a coworking space.
I also really like Drift’s CEO, David Cancel. They had him before the pandemic, but I’ve always really liked his approach. He leads with such transparency. We need to lean on leaders that are more open and transparent with their practices.
Last question: What’s your favorite Slack tip or feature that you would recommend to other users?
This is a little embarrassing to admit because it’s so simple. I remember telling my Slack Community co-lead Alexandra, “I wish I could organize my DMs and threads into groups.” She just looked at me like, “You don’t know?”
She showed me how to clump things together the way I needed. I can hide the threads and conversations that aren’t as critical, and keep the important stuff at the top. It’s such a simple thing, but for someone who likes to be so highly organized, it was a true game-changer.
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