The Secret Sauce Behind Jotform's Exponential Growth | Podcast

The Secret Sauce Behind Jotform's Exponential Growth | Podcast

Interview by Vianca MeyerVianca Meyer
Published: September 01, 2023

Who Is Steve Hartert?

Steve Hartert is VP of Enterprise Sales Operations at Jotform, with responsibilities that include marketing programs, brand management, and corporate partnerships. Before joining Jotform, he was president of Hartert and Associates. Steve has more than 30 years of marketing management experience and has worked with companies such as Walt Disney, the Ministry of Transport in Sydney, and BlueCross of CA.

Marketing is often considered the golden grail for business growth, but what does it take to hit the marketing jackpot? 

With digital marketing constantly evolving, it seems impossible to keep up with all the changes.  

In this exclusive interview, marketing expert and the VP of Enterprise Sales Operations at Jotform, Steve Hartert, speaks on his decades-long experience in the industry, how marketing kickstarted growth at Jotformand how to crack the code in marketing.

This podcast transcript has been edited for clarity and readability.

Vianca Meyer: How did you initially break into the marketing industry, and what was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome? 

Steve Hartert: There are always challenges when you're starting. It goes back to when I was in college. Back then, I was what they called a communications major, which focused on PR. But you try to do as much as you can, so I worked in the news office of our university. I was also a reporter and editor for the college newspaper, so I got a ton of writing experience that way. I would say to anybody out there, take some journalism classes when you're in college. It will teach you to be a much better writer because you have to do it quickly and well.  

From there, I had a nice stack of clips that I could show people. I started pounding doors when I graduated and looking for work. I went to work in Los Angeles, where I'm from, and one of the big eight accounting firms that existed at the time hired me to work in their communications department. From that point on, I started working for different kinds of marketing departments. Along the way I realized that if I wanted to grow my career in that business, I needed to pick up an MBA. I've been doing it ever since and I think it's probably the most fun discipline in the business world because it's ever-changing. 

You've been in the industry for over 20 years, and have so much experience in marketing and growing market shares for emerging companies. What keeps you inspired to evolve? 

It comes back to what I said, there are always changes. There are changes in the challenges we face. I don't want to say it's bad, but market segmentations are more fractured than they usually are. Back in the day, it was tough to laser in on different industries. Now, you can pinpoint who and where that market is.

That's very important for a marketer because you eliminate a lot of waste in your activities. The more you can eliminate that part of it, the better marketer you are because you're talking to the people who should be interested in your product or service.

Back in the day, you didn't have that kind of access to material. Today, you can see your server results in real-time. As a campaign goes out, you can see how it's performing and adjust in real-time if necessary. That is key to an effective marketing campaign. 

How has Jotform's approach to marketing changed from when you joined the company to now? 

When I joined Jotform in 2016, the company had been around for about ten years. Our CEO Aytekin Tank has never taken a dime of venture capital money, which is unusual in the tech world. We've been a bootstrap company since day one and he wanted to start making a marketing push. He knew the company was growing, but to get it to where he envisioned the company, he knew he was going to have to start marketing.

We had a couple of people on board that were doing PR tasks, but we needed more. By some happenstance, Aytekin's path and mine crossed, and he asked if I wanted to take on the challenge. I looked at the whole company from a holistic point of view. This is what a marketer should do - look at the holistic point of view but also keep in mind the granular view, to understand the whole thing from top to bottom.

We put together our first real marketing strategy and we started putting it out there in a very aggressive form. We've never looked back. It's just one of these things that we just continue to grow. Once we started to market the company, the growth kicked into another gear and continued to grow phenomenally.

What are the biggest challenges of tackling marketing at a constantly expanding company like Jotform? 

It’s managing the growth. I've never been in any place that has grown like this before. It's very refreshing because I’ve been on the other side of that coin in several companies. To have this kind of exponential growth every year is incredible. The other side of it is also managing customer expectations. Now they come to the table expecting a certain level of service, support, and integration processes.  

You must meet those expectations and you want to come back with a good communication line for those customers. We've got newsletters, online support for people, and a constant variety of content that we put out there, whether it's just through our blogs or external types of publications.

We're looking at both sides of the sales equation and answering those questions for people. Because of that, there's a great comfort level when people come on board and join us. In our growth, we're approaching our mid-20s, meaning 20 million customers. So, you look at the numbers every day and think that someday it's going to stop, but it does not look like it will stop, which is fantastic. 

Throughout the years, were you able to identify things that set you up for a solid foundation that drives growth the way it has? 

Firstly, it was to understand who our customers are, which I think we did when I came on board. Many metrics captured data about who our customers were, where they were, and how they used the product. When I was putting together the initial marketing strategy, we focused on two segments.

As a result, we could focus on two particular segments of our customer baseThen when we started marketing, our marketing message revolved around how they used it.

You start crafting your message by understanding how customers play with your product. We were able to do that and then put these pieces out there, and you could see the growth in those segments because then those companies came in and did the very same thing.  

So, for us, it was about having a good solid metrics base which is key. The company believes in data. We capture a lot of data, but we don't capture it just for the sake of capturing it. We capture it to act on it. Every piece of data that we have in our systems is something that we need to know about our customers.

We always go back and review just what we're looking for: do we have any blind spots, is there something that we're not capturing that we need to capture? Knowing where you've come from and where you are tells you where you will go.

Edited by Anja Paspalj & Nikola Djuric

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