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Digicom Interview with Afshan Dosani, Head of Growth at Kindra

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

We had an enlightening conversation with Afshan Dosani, an accomplished leader in the field of growth and marketing, who generously shared her insights and experiences. In this discussion, Afshan provides a unique perspective on what it takes to succeed in the dynamic world of growth, brand building, and marketing.

Here's a glimpse of what you can expect in the podcast:

Afshan's Journey: Afshan kicks off the conversation by delving into her academic background, revealing her initial focus on international human rights and politics. However, her career path took an unexpected turn when she discovered her passion for marketing during a marketing 101 class.

Learning from Failure: Afshan's journey through various startups, including her time at Fab, a unicorn startup that eventually went bust, showcases the invaluable lessons she learned from challenging situations. From navigating through periods of financial struggle to managing a one-person marketing team, her experiences are filled with practical insights into how to thrive amidst adversity.

Head of Growth at Getaway: Afshan's role as the Head of Growth at Getaway takes center stage in the conversation. She explains how she helped build a strong team to focus on diverse aspects of marketing, including email marketing, partnerships, influencer marketing, and paid advertising. Her story demonstrates the importance of collaboration, creative problem-solving, and the intricate balance between brand building and growth.

Creativity in Growth: Afshan emphasizes the importance of creativity in the growth role. She shares stories of how her creative thinking led to surprising successes, such as the "surprise box" campaign that helped Fab clear excess inventory and an innovative approach to promoting adult products. These instances highlight the power of thinking outside the box when it comes to driving growth.

Avoiding Growth Pitfalls: Afshan provides practical advice for individuals aspiring to excel in growth roles. She stresses the significance of productive time management, avoiding burnout, and maintaining a work-life balance. Additionally, she highlights the need to remain strategic and not get lost in the details. In the fast-paced world of growth, it's easy to focus on minor tasks that might not have a significant impact on the business.

To wrap it up, this podcast is a valuable resource for entrepreneurs, marketers, and growth enthusiasts looking to gain a deeper understanding of the world of growth. Afshan Dosani's journey highlights the resilience, creativity, and adaptability needed to succeed in the domain of startups and marketing.

Tune in now to hear the full conversation!

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Hemant Varshney (00:00.69) Afshan, thanks for jumping on the show with us today. I would love to jump in on your background. Afshan (00:03.763) No problem. Afshan (00:10.246) Sure. So I went to NYU. I studied politics. I was all about international human rights. I had no intention of going into growth to appease my parents. I was like, let's go ahead and get a business degree while we're at it. And I remember I took a marketing 101 class and was like, this is the most fun I've had this entire time. Like, what is this? This is so interesting. The creativity, the strategy. the brand building, I remember just absolutely loving it. And that's how I ended up getting my first internship at a startup and it just completely snowballed from there. So. Hemant Varshney (00:50.171) Which startup did you internet? I know your experience ranges through multiple different verticals and companies, but if you could tell us a little bit more about the startup. Afshan (01:05.898) Yeah, I started off at a place called Fab. It was a billion dollar unicorn that went bust and I was lucky enough to come during that like bust period which I know sounds crazy, but you learn a lot about how an organization works, what pain points are, a lot of what not to do when month over month, everything's in the red and there's very little that you can do about it. I came on during... right before they had been acquired by an international conglomerate. And I was the social media person, I was the PR support person, the samples person, doing all of the marketing coordinator things. And I very quickly learned that's not what I love. I was really happy to get a door into the world of marketing. And fab's really interesting because they sold... across so many different verticals. So I very quickly learned to see how 3D printers were marketed and art and home decor and adult products and furniture and really any accessories, anything and everything you can imagine, they work with suppliers, really interesting vendors with great stories to really elevate their brands. So you in the process learn how to very quickly. launch, whether it was a scrappy MVP launch or all hands on deck, all resources on deck to really bring a product to life. They had a massive, massive audience just through the years that they had gone through their unicorn status boom. And that was really exciting. And there was really strong brand identity at that point as well, which is really great to see. You know, post acquisition things didn't stay so hot. So very quickly, there was a lot of volatility on the team. Hemant Varshney (02:41.879) Thank you. Afshan (03:01.118) layoffs, people leaving, and I very quickly became a one woman marketing show there. And so a day in my life, just a few years in, I had gone from obviously intern to working full time because I just loved the team. And after just learning from everyone that had been there, and after all of the volatility, I found myself sending emails out daily to an audience of a million and a half. people to running paid with an agency, then running affiliate, running PR, partnerships, really at UX, all things that you can imagine I could dabble in. It was kind of like a dream come true because I got to really go get like the inside scoop on how these channels work, collaborate with the entire company to make that happen and external partners. And also learn more about like the financial side of things, getting really into the numbers. When I first started off as an intern, my numbers, the KPIs that I was reporting on were very different than what I ended up focusing on. And I realized in that process was that was what I really loved. Like understanding business needs, seeing how the levers that I'm pulling can really make a difference, the testing that you can go through. And like I said, when a company is in the red, no one's really going to say no to things that you want to test. Hemant Varshney (04:01.518) Yeah. Afshan (04:27.726) because you don't have a lot to lose anyways. So it was the best place for me to have flexibility to just go ham and have fun. And I mean, obviously the company didn't really make it, but I became in that process of jack of all trades, which is really exciting. Hemant Varshney (04:47.53) I think whenever there is chaos, there is so much you can learn during chaos. And I think even just speaking a little bit from my career, it's anytime I've been anywhere where it's been absolutely chaotic. And if you find that inner person to just be calm through it and look through it, all the opportunity that's available for you to learn and test and grow. It really like catapults your career and like pushes you forward. I can say that very much for myself with some of the places where I've worked and just what comes out of it. After Fab, you created like and learned all and developed all of these different skill sets, right? And eventually you rose to head of growth. Afshan (05:27.231) Yeah. Hemant Varshney (05:46.398) and we met while you were head of growth at Getaway. Can you talk a little bit about that experience and what does being a head of growth mean? Afshan (05:54.738) Yeah, so getaway was really incredible. I felt so lucky that I could come to this team where I'm like, my track record isn't great from my first startup, but I'm bringing this entire skill set. Did I mention I'm really cheap and I have a big, you know, chip on my shoulder because now I desperately need to succeed and I will do whatever it takes. And I think for them that was good enough. And they saw the passion that I was bringing. So they brought me on as their first marketing hire, which was incredible. I don't think I could have succeeded in that role without a really strong VP that I reported to who really understood the balance of brand and growth and was my biggest advocate with the team and helped me succeed. Um, and it was incredible. So I was able to build out an amazing team to focus on all things, email marketing, email SMS. Um, partnerships, influencer, obviously paid, which was huge. We were able to build out a really strong pricing strategy that actually became like an HPS case study by the time I left, because we went from like flat pricing every day to an incredibly dynamic model that we explored a lot of hypotheses during COVID of understanding supply and demand that became quite contentious. But it was absolutely incredible. I would say That was one of the first places where I learned how collaborative growth can be. You know, it's not just like you're stuck in a marketing function. You just work with the marketing team and that's it. You're deeply involved with finance. You're deeply involved with CX. With finance, you're thinking about, you know, aligning on revenue, aligning on profitability, making sure you're aligned on your projections and staying in close touch as you think about what levers to pull for the health of the business. With CX, for example, we work very closely on making sure that our retention efforts were really strong, taking insights for why people aren't purchasing, what points of friction that we have, how we can make sure people come back two, three, up to 10, 20 times, and building a strong experience there. And also, in my case, advocating for their needs. If the CX team was just really swamped, how can I help fight for them as a case for having better customer experience, therefore having more revenue? Afshan (08:18.042) Same with the tech team, we had a completely custom site and backend and making sure that we were able to advocate for growth needs was really important. I remember when I came in, I think the first thing I put together was like a 20 page breakdown of why the UX just needed a massive overall. I'm pretty sure the team was like, who is this crazy person? But it was awesome being able to push a lot of those needs forward and seeing very clear results. So, and even with the dev team, and by dev, I mean like real estate development. That was really cool because the areas that they focused on acquiring properties. And how much effort they put into landscaping and the experience and activities and all of those things directly tied into my customer experience. So that was just incredible. Hemant Varshney (09:10.518) Yeah, and I think, you know, during also that time, like, Getaway saw a lot of expansion. So like chaotic in a different manner, right? Like maybe not things going south, but things going north and using all of the resources you possibly have to keep growing. And again, I think for you, it's like, you're, you know, every time we've worked together, you're part of like each decision across the business, whether Afshan (09:19.447) Yeah. Hemant Varshney (09:40.366) developing properties or in getting new inventory, right? You're always like very plugged into the businesses you're working with, which is like absolutely fascinating to me because it's always like problem solving for a new and finding new solutions. So being like very solution oriented is what I enjoy about working together and trying to find new avenues to scale. Afshan (10:05.374) Yeah, I mean, I guess on that note, Guidaway was one of the first places where I learned that a no doesn't really mean no. It just means like make a better case. And so I have taken that with me throughout my career. And that's kind of how a lot of my work became so collaborative is because they would see, like some people would see very clear opportunity for their role with like, oh, I asked. There's no budget, so I guess I'll deal. And I'm like, there's always budget. Hemant Varshney (10:15.196) Yep. Afshan (10:34.186) you just didn't make the right case. Let's figure out how we can make a stronger case. I actually think there's an impact to the consumer experience. So let's figure this out. And I almost always ended up finding a solution that the team just assumed didn't exist before. So I thought that was fantastic and something I've definitely carried with me because in growth, if you take a passive role, you're inherently setting the team and the organization up. failure because you have to be the biggest advocate for your needs. Hemant Varshney (11:05.154) Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I think if you can talk a little bit about some of the other startups that you've worked with and I guess just chat about advocating for specific needs for the business to help drive growth, right? There are so many different things each business inherently needs, but again, resources are limited. So what does that look like? Afshan (11:30.226) Yeah. So, uh, the gut away example is interesting because I had joined right after a $15 million series a, and that was a very different resource snapshot versus the next startup I came onto. I was the first hire just going a little earlier because I'm a masochist and, um, you know, that was a seed stage startup. There's not a lot of funding and once again, being very collaborative, like some of the decisions that you have to make are really challenging. So, Kindra, Women's Health and Wellness, Focus on All Things, Menopause, Emphasis on Sexual Wellness. I think we had a lot of challenges figuring out product market fit and being able to advocate for that through what we're learning on paid. And even as we think, I'll give you a classic example, LTV. It's something that's always top of mind, every investor asks about. You have to make sure you're optimizing towards that. And something like a huge part of that beyond just like CAC and driving repeat purchases is your margin. And margin, of course, there's levers that I'm pulling. What's my discounting strategy? What's my pricing strategy? How am I bundling? How am I upselling? But also product costs. And so one of like a big case that I had to make early on was like, are we actually getting the best pricing on our products? Are there ways that we can streamline operations here? Can I help fight for different? you know, going past the moq because it'll actually have a significant impact. Or even a step further, which is, you know, talk about challenges. Shoot. Can I make a case for reformulating the product? Because I know that's going to be a significant chunk of change, especially for a seed stage startup, but what data qualitative quantitative can I pull to justify this? And we actually were able to make that case here to say, like, there's enough people that like this, but there are enough. Now what we've seen of edge cases that we can. If we're able to make the formula work for a broader range of women, we're going to have enough gains from a retention standpoint that it would actually make a lot of sense. And that's currently what's in the works right now, which is really exciting. So, yeah, definitely a lot of challenges to overcome across the board. Hemant Varshney (13:48.362) Yeah, and I think, you know, like, often I'm having this conversation of like, what is your margin? What does profitability look like in 2023 more than, you know, I would say like the last eight years, nine years, profitability has been the entire discussion point. And, and essentially, for you know, our listeners, it's if your cost of goods is 50% of MSRP, you break even into two rows. just like super simple math for the folks. And essentially, if you're at 20 and 30% at a two row as you're making some money, maybe not a ton, but you've made money on that first order, right? And so just understanding the math behind that is super, super important. And that's a discussion I'm having a lot more and more and more. And then... And then there's also a total business strategy, right? And we talk a lot about total business where it's like brands in their more nascent stage might not have a fully built email program or an SF program or have a lot of CRO kind of testing going on and paid is the biggest driver. And then eventually it's like, cool, paid's gotten us here. We need to build out email and we need to build out all of these other channels, which you've set up, right? So like, what does that journey kind of look like? And, you know, what is that like impact for brands and why is it important? Afshan (15:25.746) Yeah, you know what's funny is like, of course there's a channel mix, but you also have to have like really strong brand building for stickiness across these channels. So like end of fab days, my retention was just like not great because there wasn't a real reason to pick the fab over every other brand when you're a marketplace and you don't have a lot of strong brand affinity because you're not really investing in brand building efforts versus getaway. That was my first experience where it was like such a strong brand, such incredible affinity, where people just so deeply connected to the need of balance and nature and time off and resetting and taking ownership over your time again, you know, discovering more of who you are and rebuilding your relationships. Those are really powerful things. And so that set up a cross channel efforts up for success in a pretty meaningful way on the paid dependency. Once again, I was very lucky there to have a team where like, there wasn't a lot of room for that because there was an extreme need for efficiencies to profitably scale a business like that. So we had pretty aggressive goals. From day one, we knew that we had to take an email list that was, you know, 20, 30,000 people and take it to a million by the time I left. That takes really, really aggressive work. Um, and we had to make sure that we were pairing that with, of course, the paid efforts, but, um, equally prioritizing partnerships and, uh, a profitable influencer strategy and a lot of, um, affiliate testing to make sure that we could stabilize our cap because it's really, really difficult to put all of the pressure on paid, especially when you have products that require a lot of education, you just can't pay. It has to be part of the one, two punch. that can either like drive that initial interest or like, you know, help seal the deal. But to put everything on paid, you know, I sometimes have to go through that learning myself a few times where then you see cat creeping up and you realize that you need to, you don't want to just diversify for diversifying sake, but there's a lot of essential things that need to have down before you put significant effort into testing paid, which is like the channels that I just mentioned, like your ownable channels, your low lift channels. Afshan (17:43.422) And the right people behind them as well. For like influencer, for example, or partnerships, it's easy to invest in a lot of shitty partnerships that are like, okay, well we did a social giveaway together, like, isn't that enough? And it's like, not really, not if you think about the KPIs that you're leveling up to, are they informed on the KPIs that they need to level up to, do they have like very clear goals? That's why these channels, which have, you know, I guess prior used to be within a brand world now are also falling within growth. So like owning a lot of those like partnerships and influencers and making sure that you're taking an efficient approach to it. But then also tying that into paid, you can't have it standalone, which is why it also fits well into growth. Influencers within brand, you pay them 10 grand, you get a few posts and you're like, cool, that did something. Influencers within growth, you're testing 20 different micro and nano to see what actually works. Then you're running white listing or you know... co-promoted through paid, seeing what drives the most engagement, doing a lot of testing, a lot of hook testing through your briefs, and then suddenly you're able to justify the right types of investment for creators that are setting paid and organic up for success. So definitely try to take like a multifaceted approach throughout that. Hemant Varshney (18:57.422) That's amazing advice. Thank you for sharing all of that. What are some of your favorite parts about brand building? I know we've spoken about many different aspects of what you're doing as a head of growth, but what are things that you just love? And if someone is looking to go down this path of being a head of growth, VP of marketing, you know, what are what are things that they should be looking forward to? Afshan (19:32.746) Um, so many things. So one of my favorite things is just the creativity that comes with this role. I think there can be an assumption that it's like the brand roles have a lot of creativity growth is much more technical. And of course there's a technical significant technical aspect to growth, but it does require fresh perspective all the time. So I'll give you some examples like with fab, even from my earliest days. One of the issues was that. the prior merchandising team had bought so much inventory, actually I'll take a step back. The model was drop ship. You're working with small suppliers. And that's really challenging because when you're doing a flash sale model with these small suppliers, suddenly you can't ship inventory for months at a time. Everything's delayed. It's a bad customer experience. They're like, great, let's shift this. Let's start buying a bunch of inventory upfront for these sales and for our merchandising efforts, whatever. And a lot of tests didn't go so well. And then suddenly they were sitting on millions and millions of dollars worth of inventory that just wasn't selling. And they're at my time, there's some of the biggest wins. We're just moving through that because it's not just the cost of the product. It's the cost for holding onto it. No matter how much I did discounts, I did every affiliate, coupon, Brad's deals, everything you could think of to just move the inventory. And it wasn't budging at some point. I was like, I can't go deeper than 70% off this. Like I'm not going to make any money on this. could go to liquidators and making pennies on the dollar. And then I was like, okay, let's just try something really crazy. Let's pack into these products up into something that we'll call the surprise box. You have no idea what you're getting. You just know you're spending a hundred bucks. You're getting $200 worth of goods. We'll do a little campaign behind it. You really scrappy and we'll just see if it sells. And at least move through all the inventory. Hemant Varshney (21:27.639) Oh, that's amazing! Afshan (21:27.873) I'm sorry. Obviously, we tried a few different price points. We had like a $200 box and a $50 box and all of these things. And just by giving it a little creative and brand building love, like that was so shocking. I was like, I didn't even think about doing that before. Or I'll give you another fab example. We sold products under every vertical you can imagine. And I remember one of our partners that we had brought on Mystery Vibe was an adult toy product. We hadn't really been pushing that category for a while, even more focused on the tech and accessories and things like that. We sent out a launch email and it was a huge success. I was like, oh my God, this is our best revenue day in a very long time. So we were able to make a case to be like, let's just lean more into the category. Let's do a little photo shoot. Let's make a new landing page. Let's bring in like focus on more vendors. The margins are awesome and it ended up becoming like 30% of the business by the time I left when I started on that vertical was 3%. So like really cool things like that where you can just take these data nuggets, get creative, try to try different things out and know that. There's not a lot of pressure to make everything a win. One of the biggest pieces of advice that I got was like, just know off the bat, half of what you do is going to fail. And so that in my. You're better off focusing on tests that make a lot of sense. Obviously you don't want to just take a spaghetti approach, but come in with clear hypotheses. Don't assume that everything's going to be a win and just go for it and have fun and make sure that the team's on board. I think that has been really helpful as I turn through things like this because for every winner surprise box and adult category test, I have equal amounts of like, that was a failure. Hemant Varshney (23:21.59) Yeah, and it's all about learning, right? And having this test and learn, like Eric Ries, Lean Startup, just scrappy approach. And in our day-to-day, it's very apparent that's how we think and approach things, but I think there's a lot of other business owners or startups or people looking to... Afshan (23:22.805) I'm sorry. Hemant Varshney (23:47.834) build their first businesses, where that's not the framework. Failure is the enemy, and it's just like, well, that's not true. You can learn so much just by what went not your way. Or maybe there's an accident in the lab where you're like, I don't think this is gonna win, and somehow it just takes off, and that changes your entire business, right? And it's very much ingrained in growth, where it's test, learn, and as long as you're always coming out with your hypotheses and then what you learned from that test and did you hit KPIs or not and what you can improve on next time, that is extremely, extremely important. And I very much like echo that sentiment. It's very much how I think. And I know it's how you think and that's why we work really well together. So you got advice about building Friends, what is a piece of advice you can give to folks listening? Afshan (24:55.074) Um. Afshan (24:58.978) Sometimes I feel like... When you're in a growth lead position, you're not hitting your numbers. Things can be a little scary. It's hard to not take it personally sometimes. And sometimes you find yourself wanting to just try out all the things and like diversifying, like Facebook's struggling. Let me bring on these like five new channels and this and that, and like being mindful that you're not like diversifying for the sake of diversifying, but like actually taking a strategic approach. Like, I guess my, my piece of advice is like, when your programs aren't working, when AdWords is really volatile and Facebook's volatile and you're not hitting your revenue, like sometimes that's, I've seen that to be a moment where a lot of wrong calls are made because you're just like, you just go into like, let me just try to do anything to fix it versus like, let's take a step back and be like, is there a right product market fit here? Why is a channel really like not working? Is it that Facebook's volatile or is it that our creative just sucks? I had to have a conversation with a mentor on that one. Like, oh man, like I was 14, like things are just so tough. And you know, this woman also runs an ad agency and she got on a call with me and she was like, it's not Facebook, it's you. I was like, okay, damn it. Let's focus on more creative testing before I spend money. And you have to put significant investment into like cross channel testing to make sure you're really getting quality insight. So. It's really helped me to take a step back or with other moments when I'm just like, why is like the CAC for, you know, give the kinder example, the CAC for some of our products was just really, really high. And we had done a lot of creative testing and landing page testing and it just wasn't doing well. And then we had to take a step back and be like, what's the product market fit here? Like, what are we really doing? What makes the most sense for the business? And once I stopped trying to push. Afshan (26:54.962) certain products so hard and I leaned into what the data was showing me, it actually gave a very clear pathway for Kindred to become a sexual wellness and health and wellness brand versus trying to solve for every symptom of menopause under the moon. That was incredible for us. It opened up a lot of insights. It gave us a lot of clarity on our product roadmap. It helped us over half our CAC in the process. So... I feel like sometimes there can be a instinct to go really tactical and just try a bunch of different things versus zooming out to be like, strategically are we aligned here? Are we really maximizing the channels as they are? And that's a hard step to take sometimes when there's a lot of pressure, you know, no CEOs, like that's okay, like try again next month, we'll see what happens. You know, you have to start. creating an action plan very quickly. And so being able to stay calm in those moments and not feel like you need to run yourself to the ground is really helpful. Hemant Varshney (27:55.402) That is amazing advice. Yeah, I echo that and I understand all of that. So yeah, I mean, being like the reflective part, like in asking that tough question is not easy, right? And getting like feedback on yourself where it's like, hey, is this working or not? And it's just, yeah, that is. amazing advice for everybody. And so many different lenses as well that can be applied. So thank you. Couple more questions for you. What's one question you wish I asked you that I didn't, and how would you answer it? Afshan (28:46.67) Uh, you know, I think the one that I would have harped on, it was like the pitfalls of being in growth and we kind of touched on that. Um, but I think I can elaborate that on like a bit more. So I think from what I've seen throughout my startup experience and what I've seen with friends, I think there's a question of like, How are you productively using your time in a growth lead position? There's a lot of pitfalls with that. You're managing a team that has to have incredibly high output, and sometimes you can waste a lot of time and on just management in a way that's not as efficient. There's the whole burnout question when you're responsible for revenue and the broader health of the business. It's really difficult to maintain balance and health, and those are things that you also can't take for granted, like something that you need to... pretty early on find a way to manage because otherwise you'll just get consumed and you won't be able to find the joy that you would be able to in a position like this. And then we kind of touched on this as well, but taking a passive approach and growth, like, oh, they said no to the budget. Oh, they said now's not the right time to test this thing or like, oh, I got some push back on this like cross team initiative. Maybe I'll just try again later. Like being able to have a clear why. finding the people that will be your advocates and pushing for that so that way you don't just take the L on everything is really, really important. And being a little stubborn and advocating for your team and your channels is essential. So all that ties back into taking care of your mental and physical health, making sure that you're prioritizing the right things. The other thing in growth is that you have a never-ending to-do list. Some of it's just... bullshit little things that you have to get out of the way. Some of it's broader questions that you have to think about, strategies that you have to implement. And I think there's a bit of a productivity trap that can happen when your to-do list is that long that you're technically checking off things from the list, but they're not the most important things to check off. But when you feel like you're scrambling or you're overwhelmed, it's easy to just focus on the little things that make you feel like you're productive versus the bigger swing things that might take a lot longer, but have a much bigger impact. Afshan (31:07.434) or are just the bigger risks to be taking. And when you're in a leadership role, that's something that you have to push yourself on constantly because it's so much easier to just get into the weeds. So I think that's something that I try to remind myself too. Hemant Varshney (31:22.862) Thank you, thank you for sharing that. Where can our listeners find you? Afshan (31:28.866) You can hit me up on LinkedIn. The name's Afshan Dosani. Feel free to shoot me a message. Happy to have a conversation. Hemant Varshney (31:35.354) Amazing. Thank you. Afshan (31:37.066) No problem.


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