In Conversation With | Alyssa Atkins, VP of Marketing at CareGuide
Alyssa Atkins is the VP of Marketing at CareGuide - a suite of vertically-focused marketplaces for people looking for and willing to provide care. They pair families and individuals with great care providers, such as a nanny, housekeeper, pet sitter, babysitter, elder care provider, or house sitter. CareGuide also helps people pay their caregivers through their payments service. We sat down with Alyssa to chat about all things marketing and how she has charted a path for herself in startup marketing.
Tell us more about what you do at CareGuide
I’m the VP of Marketing at CareGuide and my job is to perpetually increase the number of people that know about and use CareGuide.
Another facet of my job is asking right questions to the people on my team. We grant a high degree of autonomy at CareGuide, so asking questions leads the marketing team to push themselves, their channels, and CareGuide as a whole forward.
Finally, I’m also responsible for hiring and keeping the best people. So far we’ve done this by hiring folks who may have less direct marketing experience, but are extremely intelligent and gritty, and then we give them an incredible amount of autonomy and ownership. One of our values at CareGuide is “Careers, not jobs.”
Tell us more about CareGuide and what it does
Now, our main line of business are these care-focused marketplaces. We also have a payments line of business. So for instance, once a family and a nanny find each other, the family very often becomes an employer for the first time. Many families don’t know this, but upon hiring a nanny, you have the same responsibilities any employer would have when hiring - pay stubs, T4s, direct deposit, all of that.
Lots of families don’t have the time or expertise to navigate such a byzantine system, or they simply don’t want to. And so we also take care of caregiver payroll for families who hire a nanny or care provider.
CareGuide started in 2012 and for a long time the team was made up of just John Philip Green, CareGuide’s Chief Executive Dad. I joined in 2015 as the first marketing hire and sixth person to join overall. We’re now a team of about 30. And so, for context, at this point we’re adding over 100,000 users each month and driving over 2 million monthly visits. To date we’ve raised about $5M from the most robust investor group in Canadian history, $3.5M of which has come from investors and then we’ve borrowed $2M from banks. We’ve paid most of that off now and are doing $6M in yearly revenue and have been about tripling our core business year over year.
What was your path to marketing and where you are today?
So I started my career running my own window cleaning company in university, which was my foray into entrepreneurship before I’d even really heard it described as such.
I pursued that venture rather successfully throughout university, and then after I graduated, I participated in an entrepreneurship institute called the Next 36 (now called NEXT). The idea is they take, who they say, are the top 36 most talented young entrepreneurs in Canada and provide them with mentorship, capital, and an academic environment to accelerate the growth of these folks.
After NEXT I joined Top Hat, one of Toronto’s highest performing and most ambitious startups, as one of the earliest marketing hires. And that lead me to where I’ve landed now at CareGuide.
What do you find most rewarding about your role?
Impact. Our company is relatively small, so each project we spend our time on has the capacity to really move the needle. This means I’ve got to be very disciplined about what spend my time on, and check in weekly on whether I’m working on what is most likely to move the business forward.
Everybody at CareGuide is punching above their weight, and so the personal growth that accompanies this is extremely rewarding.
I’d also say the people I work with. I’m surrounded by people who push me to be better in every considerable dimension.
What do you find most challenging about your role?
Probably uncertainty, and navigating a team without knowing necessarily what the right answer is. So it goes for anyone in startups. To mitigate this, we rely heavily on data as a compass to help us decide where we should move next.
How has the definition of marketing transformed in recent years?
Sometimes people misconstrue marketing to be just about advertising and branding. In my mind, marketing is simply about increasing the number of people who know about and use your product, and branding is certainly one part of that. Folks are also beginning to conflate ‘growth’ and ‘marketing’, which we treat as distinct disciplines at CareGuide.
What are your best sources for reading about marketing?
I enjoy books about behavioural economics. Some favourites for marketing minds are Thinking Fast and Slow, Made to Stick, and Traction.
What are your top applications and tools?
Best Time Saving Skill?
I plan out my week ahead of time, pretty much to the minute. So at the end of the week I question what the company needs, what my team needs, and the main things I could work on to meet these needs. Then I schedule what I’m going to do that week right into my calendar. This saves me time throughout the week trying to decide what I need to work on next, and also mitigates the risk of working on projects that are neither important nor urgent.
What is the greatest piece of marketing advice you have ever received?
It came from my colleague, John Philip Green, who framed marketing simply as distribution. Many companies have strengths in product or engineering, and you have to find ways of distributing that product. The days of ‘build it and they will come’ are pretty much over.
How do you define value of a product and how do you deliver or communicate that value?
A product has value if it solves a need for somebody and they’re willing to pay for that solution.
When it comes to pricing, do a lot of testing. Your product is worth what people are willing to pay for it, so it behooves you to discover the upper bounds of that willingness. Then communicate the value through marketing channels that are most appropriate for your product. In other words, party where your customers party.
How do you suggest that others find their way through the field of marketing?
If you are looking at joining a company, audit the value you can bring. I would say you absolutely do not need a marketing degree to enter the field of marketing. What you do need is proof that you are gritty, resourceful, and can get shit done. Figure out what your unique value proposition is and how you can impactfully contribute to growing the company.