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Interview with Foti Panagiotakopoulos – Getting Into Growth Marketing – Episode #69

Foti graduated with a degree in finance in 2007 but, quickly pivoted into digital marketing a year later as the first non-engineer hire at the managed hosting provider, EuroVPS. Fast forward a decade and in 2018 he launched his startup called GrowthMentor which helps founders and marketers connect with vetted mentors.

Questions we covered include:

  • Why did he create GrowthMentor?
  • How would he describe his job as a founder?
  • What are some of his weekly and monthly challenges?
  • What resources would he recommend to someone who’s new to growth marketing?
  • What new marketing skill is Foti learning right now (PREVIEW: it’s a skill with three letters)?
  • When is the right time for a business to hire a growth marketer and do they need to be a full-time employee?
  • What interview questions should entry-level growth marketers know how to answer?
  • What are his favorite MarTech tools?
  • Why does he think people are too obsessed with personal branding?


Full Episode Transcript:


Kenny Soto  0:02  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the people of digital marketing with your host Kenny Soto. Today’s guest is the founder of growth mentor. Hi, Fawlty. How are you?


Foti Panagio  0:18  

All good. All good. Thanks for having me. 


Kenny Soto  0:19  

Awesome. So I wanted to just dive straight in and ask my first question, which is, why did you create a growth mentor?


Foti Panagio  0:29  

Because I needed it myself. And it didn’t exist. And I was hacking the process through Upwork. So just a bit of background into that. I studied finance at university, and I graduated in 2007. 


And a year later, I pivoted into marketing, I never actually used my degree in finance, I was the first non-engineer to hire my older brother’s tech startup. And he’s like, Come on, man, you studied finance, I’m sure you should be able to figure out the marketing side and help grow this company. 


And like, alright, let’s figure it out. At that point, he had scaled a company organically to around $30,000 a month. And he was growing. And I was like, this seems a lot more fun than, you know, jumping into some bank, right? So I taught myself marketing, I made every single mistake in the book. 


And because my brother was the founder, I really couldn’t get fired. Probably if I had a job anywhere else I would have got fired at the very beginning, because I made a lot of mistakes and burned a lot of money on ads and doing silly things. But I guess, to answer your question, why I created growth, hundreds, probably exactly. 


Because I didn’t have a loss. And I had to learn everything by myself. And it was like, crap, man, I really wish I had somebody that I could have as a mentor, guide me in the right direction in digital marketing, and help me avoid some of the silly mistakes that I made early on. So what I was doing in that process, when I didn’t have a mentor is I was going on Upwork. 


And instead of hiring freelancers to like, do things for me, per se, I would just hire them to talk to them, and just be like, hey, you know, I’m setting up this drip campaign where I set up his Google search ad campaign. Let’s jump on a call and like talking through, right, and like, I would do a screen share. 


And I would say, hey, you know, you’re my ad groups. This is how I’m doing my targeting, like, is this the way that you would set it up? Is there anything blatantly wrong with it? And then they would just answer it, right? And we would just have chats. And that process of just getting pure feedback was magical for me because it allowed me to reduce the amount of time I spent passively consuming content, on blog posts and courses because I was an addict, you know. 


Kenny Soto  2:53  

So, just to get more context, I would like to know, what were Can you give me a specific?


Foti Panagio  3:00  

What noggin? Yeah,


Kenny Soto  3:02  

Yeah, can you give me a specific example of a mistake that you made?


Foti Panagio  3:07  

Broad match keywords. And not even knowing that phrase match and broad modified match existence, and burning through $5,000 in ad spend in like, one week with very little to show for?


Kenny Soto  3:23  

And I’m assuming this is just one of many examples. And I would like to know, at what point did you realize that through talking to all of these freelancers, on Upwork, you can make your own business from literally getting mentors to coaching other marketers


Foti Panagio  3:48  

Around nine years. So I started in 2007. And in 2016, I had the initial idea. So I started doing that awkward thing around 2015. So the first eight years or so, I didn’t really talk to anybody. I just did things. You know, my way. 


Obviously, I would have conversations here and there with other marketers, but very rarely, I mean, I didn’t have a LinkedIn profile until like 2018 When I launched profiles work, right? So like, I was not one of those personal branding people or getting up involved in communities.


I’m very much one of those, you know, just where do you wear it? I was obsessed with it. And I love marketing, I love growing the business. And that’s what I focused on. So, as very introverted style workers, we just focus on execution.


Kenny Soto  4:39  

The person who’s curious can you answer or describe excuse me what your day-to-day job looks like as a founder?


Foti Panagio  4:50  

Day-to-day job, so you wear many hats as a founder and as the founder, and mentor. One of the core things that I do is the vetting process for the mentors, right? So I’ll probably spend around 1012 hours a week on calls, interviewing mentor applicants, because we get around 300 people applying every month. 


And then that gets whittled down to around 15. People that actually get accepted pontic movements are at by the end of the month. So a lot of that did you spend a lot of time in Mixpanel, looking at product analytics, a little bit of time in Google Analytics and Search Console, seeing how different content is performing and kind of getting some ideas of new pieces of content to create based on query data within search console. 


And a big portion of time. Now I spend, instead of executing more just delegating tasks to my team because I’ve gotten to that point where I can’t do everything by myself. And it’s, it’s new, it’s a new challenge. Personally, this is like a new phase of delegation and building a larger team below me, and that’s probably taking up the majority of my time at this point.


Kenny Soto  6:12  

What are some of your weekly and monthly challenges when growing this organization?


Foti Panagio  6:21  

Weekly challenges are just making sure that the team has things to do, that they have the backlog filled, and that we’re all aligned on our OKRs. Right. So that’s object objectives and key results. 


That’s the organization or method that we all use to align ourselves. Amongst, you know, across are, what the priorities are, and what we each individually have to do in order to hit those objectives. 


So beyond that, I mean, a big part of my weekly challenges is making sure to follow up with people and nurturing relationships that I built, I think it’s, it’s super important to nurture the relationships that you build in your network. 


I mean, that’s your network is, isn’t I mean, at least in my business, because it’s, it’s all about people at the end of the day growth mentor, and I can’t forget, every week to save some time as well, to learn something new. It’s very dangerous to get yourself in this grind situation where you’re not personally developing. So I like to have at least two to three hours a week where I can just focus on reading new things, and, and expanding my own skill set


Kenny Soto  7:38  

Foti, What is something that you’re learning right now?


Foti Panagio  7:43  

What I’m learning right now, right now, I’m learning SQL, trying to get better at that. Because I have segments set up, and I’m passing a lot of events to Big Query. And I have a data scientist that I use to create queries warming, and I say, hey, you know, find me what percentage of users, for example, do this, but don’t do that, and are within that cohorts, and she creates the SQL queries. 


And at some point, I kind of felt embarrassed. I’m like, what, why am I not doing this myself? Again, like, I can learn how how to write SQL queries. And yeah, I just made that decision. Like, look, this is what I’m gonna learn this month. So I’ve been trying to wrap my head around practicing, mostly by just reverse engineering or SQL queries, and reading through a couple of quick guide tutorials. And it’s actually not that difficult.


Kenny Soto  8:38  

For someone who’s new to growth, marketing, whether they’ve been in an adjacent marketing role, but they now want to shift into growth marketing, or they’re new to marketing in general. And they’ve heard of growth, and marketing and want to dive right in, what resources would you recommend that they use to get started?


Foti Panagio  8:57  

Resources? So when you say resources, do you mean like learning material? Or it can be broken? Yeah,


Kenny Soto  9:03  

Yeah, it could be. Obviously, a growth mentor is one of many resources that we can talk about, but in terms of like learning materials, YouTube channels, experts that you would recommend purchases, etc.


Foti Panagio  9:17  

Yeah, I wasn’t, I wasn’t going to really mention growth vendors, because that’s an obvious one. But like, there are a lot of awesome Slack channels that are completely free to join. One really good one is the demand curve, Slack channel. 


And another resource is Upwork. I gotta say this, I mean, the best way to learn is by doing so, instead of spending loads of hours reading and watching. I mean, how about this for James, go on Upwork and apply to jobs over there and put the lowest price per 10 $15 An hour and, or even less five, six and just say, hey, you know, I’m new to Upwork and I’m doing this job here. 


Big Does you know I want to get like, don’t say that you don’t know how to do anything, right? But that is what you’re doing but learn by doing right. And you’ll get paid to basically get paid to learn the craft. And I think that’s one of the best ways to learn because it’s very easy to go down the rabbit hole of passive consumption. 


But in terms of other resources, I mean, there’s just so much content out there on free for free on YouTube. And that’s why I really don’t want to get into this situation, or I’m just recommending amazing course creators and things like that because I’m sure your audience can find it. But like, what do you do with that knowledge once you have it, right? And I think that’s where a lot of people get stuck.


Kenny Soto  10:41  

Neil Patel just posted a YouTube video, I think it was either the last week of the year, or the first week of this year, where he talks about how the biggest mistake that you can make this year is if you’ve been learning about digital marketing, continuing to look at videos about digital marketing, and not actually launching a campaign, launching an experiment, learning from the experiment, etc. 


So while you just mentioned definitely aligns with that sentiment, my next question for you is, when is the right time for a business owner to hire a growth marketer?


Foti Panagio  11:17  

Oh, that’s a great question. It’s very conceptual, right? So if that business owner already has a marketing background, then they could probably rock and roll themselves for like, at least a couple of years, right? It depends on if they don’t enjoy it, or if it’s getting in the way of their operational responsibilities, then obviously hire a little bit quicker, right? 


But if it’s something that doesn’t really get in the way, and maybe their subject matter, expertise lends itself well to being the one in charge of content, for example, because you can do content better than anybody else, because it’s your baby, and you know the industry better than anyone else, then probably keep creating content, if that’s a channel that works for you. But for things like paid media pay, that is something that you can lose a lot of money if you don’t really know what you’re doing. 


So for small, small businesses that are starting out, I mean, once you’re making a couple of grand a month, and you’ve got the traction, and for the last three months in the role, there’s been an upward trend in revenue or user growth or whatever your core KPI is that absolutely investigate it look into hiring somebody in the thing is you have to hire somebody full time. You know you can hire a freelancer, right for a very specific channel to manage. Right. 


So there are a lot of different options. And I think that the gig economy is just such a, I mean, think about it, like imagine 1980, right? Like, you would tell somebody, Hey, you know, you could hire anyone that you want, like, for any role anywhere, like even they would be like, You’re crazy, right? And we have this right now, I think a lot of us take it for granted. Right? So you don’t have to hire somebody full-time. 


There are a lot of interim roles that you can hire for. Because this is another cool thing with the interim roles. Startups nowadays, businesses, might not have enough workload to justify hiring somebody for a 40-hour week, right? But there’s a lot of people that a lot of really experienced experts out there, that would be perfectly fine lending out, you know, not lending out, but, you know, working for 1020 hours a week, and that that could be good enough as well. 

So, again, I mean, the answer is totally contextual. But I guess you’ll just know it when you’re totally stretched out. Okay, I’m growing, and I’m kind of getting in the way of my own growth by not hiring somebody.


Kenny Soto  13:40  

Now, let’s change the views by 180 degrees. Let’s say I’m a marketer, and I’m applying to a startup, the business owner has put the job post you need a growth marketer. What are some challenging interview questions you would ask someone applying for your company under the role of growth marketer?


Foti Panagio  14:03  

I would interview questions. It would be a practical interview question, I would show them my Google Analytics or any sort of data set, right and state, and here’s a data set. Now, tell me the insight from that, obviously, I give them the context right around how the business makes money, who the ideal customer persona is, and so on and so forth. 


But I think it’s incredibly important to be able to make sense of data as a growth marketer because there’s, there’s this, I get this all the time, I like for my I make this mistake as well. Like I’m, I like to collect data like I’m very good at getting the data, but then there comes a point where it’s like, alright, well, the data by itself is worthless if you don’t actually make intelligent decisions based on the right so that’s, that’s something that I show. 


It’s part of my Every process, I recently just hired somebody full-time for a very senior marketing position. And part of that interview process was going through data and actually hearing how they think about that data in real-time.


Kenny Soto  15:17  

Amazing. my follow-up question is in the event that they answer it, and you’re not satisfied with the answer, but you’re still curious as to how they found the insight, or do you want to dive a little deeper? How would you? Actually, how would you go deeper into the conversation and see if they can come up with more insights than just the one you asked for?


Foti Panagio  15:45  

Um, if it’s it, okay, so the data here we’re talking about, let’s say it’s Google Analytics, right? And we’re talking about attribution, like, where are conversions coming from? And why are they converting? 


Like, I would probably shift the conversation into something that they feel a bit more comfortable talking about if they’re not because at the end of the day when you’re looking at data on a screen share, there is no way that they’re going to give the 100% the right answer without the full without actually having the chance to sift through other complementary data as well. So I probably just, yeah, change, change it up and not really push to borrow.




Kenny Soto  16:34  

Foti, what are some of your favorite Mark tech tools?


Foti Panagio  16:41  

Marketing Tools, Zapier can’t live without its drip, for email marketing, and for analytics. Mixpanel. Favorite. And yeah, that obviously plays well with segments.


Kenny Soto  16:57  

What worries you, and what excites you, in general about marketing in 2022?


Foti Panagio  17:06  

What worries me is, that it’s a little bit more tricky now to attribute conversions on paid media. So you know, the whole Facebook 14.0 fiasco. So that’s a little bit worrying. But that also kind of excites me a bit, because now people are focusing a little bit more on holistic marketing. And there’s a lot more emphasis on emphasis on quality over quantity. 


And doing marketing the right way, right, instead of just pushing directly on conversions, much more brand-oriented, and thinking long term. Right. So that’s, that’s what excites me. And another thing that I’m kind of noticing, which is a little bit worrisome is a slightly unhealthy obsession with personal brand building in the sense that it sometimes might be a little bit premature for some marketers. 


And I do feel like there’s almost like this peer pressure like marketers have to have a personal brand set up. Right. But I think that you have to have your success stories set up in place beforehand. And that actually takes quite a bit of work. Right. So that’s, that’s something to modulate, I would say like how much emphasis do you put on personal brands? Before you have, you know, horror stories are some stories actually talked about?


Kenny Soto  18:40  

What are your thoughts? This is a quick follow-up, what are your thoughts on someone still trying to attempt creating their personal brand, they don’t have success stories, but the content that they’re sharing is what they’re learning, as a digital marketer, who’s new to the space. 


And I asked this because I have friends in my network, who are, again, 234 years, maybe five years into their career, they don’t have a catalog of success stories, but they still want to get their names out there. What are your thoughts on that?


Foti Panagio  19:12  

I think it’s, it’s totally good. It’s awesome to do that. That issue is when you’re sort of obsessed with it or you feel sad because you don’t get those vanity metrics of the likes and so on. That’s like transparent basically, what you’re saying is a little bit like a transparent learning process, right? Where like you’re sharing your learnings in real-time as they come to you on LinkedIn and Twitter. And so I think that’s, that’s, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But you know, just don’t tie that to your identity. Right? And like expect something to come up that.


Kenny Soto  19:42  

There’s a clip of I’ve ever heard one. All right, so my last question for you. Foti is hypothetical. If you had access to a time machine, and you could go back 10 years into the past, knowing everything you know, right now, how would you accelerate the speed of your career?


Foti Panagio  20:00  

That’s an excellent question. How would I accelerate the curve of my career path? I mean, probably there was a time when I had the resources allocated to me to hire people. But I chose to do it myself instead, almost at an eagle, like I can do this better than anybody else. 


And I think that that’s such an important skill set later on in your career and how you can manage and how you’re going to organize distributed teams. And that was one of the that’s probably one of the things that I would change, try and focus less on, on trying to, like, follow all the channels, right, and build a strong team. Below, you know how to set up a really good growth roadmap. That’s what I would do differently.


Kenny Soto  20:55  

Amazing. Thank you so much for your time today. 40. And if anyone wants to say hello, where can they find you online?


Foti Panagio  21:02  

On LinkedIn, you can connect with me on Twitter, or with girlfriends, as well. You can book a call with me my time is small. It’s for free on growth mentor for a real bunch of numbers.


Kenny Soto  21:14  

Amazing. You’ve heard it here folks. This is another episode of the people digital marketing with your host Kenny Soto. And as always, I hope you have a great week. 



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