Why did I start RBL?

Back in 2014, after managing the eBay affiliate program and running acquisition marketing for various Silicon Valley startups, founders began asking me for help.

They needed a better way to manage marketing and understanding growth.

Very few companies truly understood growth. Companies of all sizes were applying a siloed approach to marketing and growth and struggled to make sense of the array of options and competing opinions. They were eager to address these concerns with a hack, tactic, or “growth hacker.”

Founders, CEOs, CMOs, VPs of Marketing, Directors of Marketing, would ask questions like...

  1. Should I hire an agency, consulting firm, or full-time hire?

  2. What marketing channels should we focus on?

  3. What should our CAC (Cost of Customer Acquisition) be? How do we properly calculate it?

  4. How do we manage Facebook Ads?

  5. Is my site optimized for SEO?

  6. Do we have have an effective A/B testing strategy and plan in place?

  7. Do we have the right people, tools, and strategies to grow our product and manage paid marketing?

They were faced with a massive amount of channels, technology options, and tactics to acquire customers efficiently and were looking for answers.

From these challenges, Round Barn Labs (RBL) was born in April 2014.

Some of the factors that marketers are faced with...

Tenures of marketing leaders were lower than their non-marketing counterparts and declining.

People are job switching at an increasing rate, especially in Silicon Valley

The technology stack options continue to grow. I will spare you the full image of the Martech 5000, but as you can see the tools just keep coming. Having someone to sort through them and know them certainly helps.

Having been an in-house marketer for years, I understood the challenge of managing multiple vendors and working to align incentives and remove friction. Marketing leaders work to prioritize channels and tactics, mitigate ad fraud, and wrestle with the cost of hiring full time-not to mention those full-time roles can change or be redundant after 6 months.

Paid marketing channels change significantly in just months. Facebook’s platform and algorithm changes in the past year. Instagram continues to take market share for product discovery,

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Channels will rise in cost, get more competitive, tactics and strategies are copied. One minute a channel has a ton of users and should be managed and optimized and the next it is gone.

MySpace marketing (yes it was a thing), Google+ and the decline of organic traffic reach on Facebook due to algorithm changes.

Easy SEO fixes are no longer as easy as they we pre 2010 as Google has prioritized UX, brand, site speed. Mobile and taken over a larger percentage of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Source:  Hubspot

Source: Hubspot

More recently, reports of a reach of only 2%  (down from 16% in 2012 are common.

Pre-2010 SEO fixes were much easier than they are now as Google has prioritized UX, brand, site speed, and mobile. They have also taken over a larger percentage of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).   

Advertisers can also just hit a ceiling. Google Search can be its own ceiling capturing existing demand in the form of brand and non-branded keywords. Facebook advertisers are running into ceilings more and more as their markets saturate or competition increases. As a result, traditional teams and “expertise” does not work. You need a combination of agility and deep knowledge. This is hard.

Pinterest has managed to enter the game of significant social channels for thousands of advertisers. Most direct to consumer, female-focused, and visual brands will continue to invest and learn to optimize this growing channel or allow their competitors to win in this space.

Bar Graph of Pinterest Revenue and Monthly Active Users

Not to be outdone, consumer brands need to understand Snap and how to utilize their image and video-centric platform and build for Augmented Reality (AR) and their Scan platform. Take a look at Snap’s global quarterly revenue from 2015 to 2018...

You get the idea. These things are changing quickly, often quicker than the tenure of an average employee at a company. So it makes sense to work with a trusted third party that is keeping up with these changes that can collaborate with your part-time and for a few months to build out a plan, execute and learn. The concept of marketing channels cyclical nature and recent rapid changes is illustrated well in Andrew Chen’s Law of Shitty Clickthroughs. Similarly, NfX’s James Currier shows how these channels evolve overtime...

Andrew Chen’s Law of Shitty Clickthroughs Chart

Just as it was in 2014...

Now in 2019, it is time for a team that can go very deep in specific marketing channels, understand in-house needs, be nimble enough to help the team course correct, but still offer an objective third party perspective.

A lot of agencies continue to add employees, clients, costs, and bureaucracy. This works for a for some teams, but it’s not for everyone. We often find that it misaligns incentives for higher fees, getting clients lower quality expertise, and less attention.

We have often helped organizations build out marketing expertise in growth strategy, affiliate/influencer, paid social, CRO, and UX with the intent for the business to own that internally at some point. While most companies should own that internally at some point, few are ready to do so. RBL takes pride in working with companies to coach them through these challenging questions, build out the systems and growth knowledge, then graduate.

We take it as a badge of honor when we are able to build up systems and learnings for a business that allows them to grow without us with their own internal team one day.

Our take is to provide more experienced operators, people that can make objective decisions rather than mindlessly following a playbook that suits the agency, not the client. These objective decisions do not always benefit RBL as a consulting firm but benefit the client. We are not in this business to lock you into long term deals or misalign incentives. We do not want to handpick tools that benefit us, but work with you and recommend the best possible solution for your business.

While this sounds obvious, it is surprising how often we hear from clients, former employees, and channel partners how even some of the largest fastest growing tech-savvy digital marketing agencies do not have the best interests of the client in mind. They have to serve their own scale and that often means predetermined tools and plans.

I wanted to offer advertiser clients a “dream team” of marketers that could be deployed as needed at a competitive price point versus other agencies, consultants, and full-time hires. I wanted to offer objectivity where agencies were incentives to pick certain software tools or vendors. I wanted a more “in-house,” customer, product, and advertiser-friendly solution to marketing agencies and consultancies. I wanted to give clients paid marketing channel analysis and performance but also deliver them a better User Experience (UX), Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), and Growth.

After getting so many questions about what channel(s) to invest to acquire customers, how to interpret: LTV, CAC, ARPU, CTR, and CPA, I knew there was a need for someone to help make sense of a confusing landscape and also just take the massive amount of work off busy Directors and VPs looking to acquire customers efficiently. Marketing leaders that had a stronger understanding of core marketing and growth principles could look to us to take on a specific channel like Facebook and Instagram ads and know that it was managed with confidence, performance would improve, and reporting was clear and actionable.

Five years later, we are still at it. As they say, growth is never done.

Some of the great companies we have been grateful to work with...

Logos of companies Round Barn Labs has worked with

But why do you call the company Round Barn Labs (RBL)?

The name Round Barn Labs was inspired by my family name and an old barn.

I wasn’t born in a barn, but close. My last name DeGrange means “from the barn” in French and I grew up on a ranch and summer camp. Right next to my family ranch was the Fountain Grove Round Barn. Over time, I came to appreciate this Northern California (Sonoma County) historic structure. I learned that they were rare, looked cool and that the circular-shaped barns were big in the 1800s and had a greater volume and used fewer materials than traditional barns.

So round barns were more efficient than their square counterparts.

Diagram of a Round Barn

Aside from an homage to my family upbringing, I set out to create a “test and learn” and “growth mindset” culture. Hence the “Labs.” This is a central part of strong growth teams and a key tenet of the Round Barn Labs (RBL) team culture to this day.

The 2017 Tubbs fire destroyed the Fountain Grove Round Barn, but we like to think we are doing our part to keep the legend alive and thriving.