Asaph Schulman, CMO @ Firebolt

Posted on Dec 18, 2022

Episode: S03E12

Podcast Guest: Asaph Schulman
Role: CMO
Company: Firebolt

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Big data analytics with robust, on-demand access to data.

Did you just get goosebumps? Thought you wouldn’t.

Data can be boring as heck…but Firebolt makes it fun. The Snowflake and Google competitor combines an irreverant, take no prisoners brand voice with a super polished marketing machine that just plain works. In this episode, I talk to Firebolt CMO, Asaph Schulman, about:

  • The four elements that went into building their brand (by my count, anyway)
  • How their brand has a very real impact on their SEO and content strategy
  • The content play they took that made them a lot of friends….and even more enemies
  • How they hire And more (there’s always an “and more”, right?)

Need more convincing? Check out this video that made me fall in ♥️ with them.

Episode Transcript

uff. I promise very practical implications of how their brand converges with our actual marketing strategy , whether it’s creatives, SEO, or content.

We’ll also talk about how soft skills his team, the first. Meet us off.

Asaph: Hey my name’s Asaph. I am F rebolt’s CMO, a dad to three young kids. And yeah, living a hectic lifestyle. You could say I stumbled into marketing from a much more technical background. So I’m a software engineer by trade who saw the light [00:02:00] and decided that writing code and even, more so, fixing other people’s bugs is it’s not what I wanna do for the rest of my life. I realized what online marketing is all about when it just got started when SEO was a breeze. And realized the, the impact and what’s possible. And that got me really excited

Since this is going to be pretty important. Here’s what Firebolt does.

Asaph: So Firebolt is the next generation of cloud data warehouses. We are built to create those interactive analytics experiences that everybody craves. The analogy I use is that if you had to wait a few minutes when you search for something on Google, how lovely would that experience be? We are geared towards building the next generation of analytics experiences for engineers that are busy building products that analytics is a significant part of.

Eytan Buchman: Well, chatting with Asaph, he counted four different inputs he described while they’re building their brand. The first is the [00:03:00] company’s own personality.

Asaph: I think our marketing is mostly informed by our own personality, which kind of reflects on the brand’s personality.

Very early on we sat down and fi and tried to figure out, okay, who we who is it that Fireball as a brand is all about? And and that, that was a very interesting exercise, which I. Warmly recommend any marketer out there to do early on with the founding team. And make sure that everybody’s on the same page. And then from that moment onwards, anything that the brand reflects is is just consistent and and it’s consistency over time creates this magic.

For us it was all about, being extremely technical. But at the same time, casual, playful we’re not taking ourselves too seriously. All those elements together are what kind of constitutes the far bolt marketing strategy.

Eytan Buchman: The second input is the users that they’re going after. Of course with his background, Assaf had headstart.

Asaph: Our target audience is a very sophisticated, [00:04:00] very technical audience. They have very low tolerance for fluff which I think is is a good thing. Keeps you honest. Yeah I think I understand what developers go through. I understand what sales people go through. So yeah, I think, part of being a good marketer is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes definitely helpful.

We are part of that target audience also. We understand very intimately what they’re going through and the challenges they’re facing and and which is obviously much greater than what Firebolt brings to the table. Their own, their whole universe is, It’s very challenging these days to be a data engineer or any engineer that deals with significant amounts of data you’re always being blamed for different things and you’re, your short on resources. But the end experience goes, goes to everyone. Everybody experiences that sluggishness or inability to drill down into whatever report you’re looking at. And it always finds itself on your desk. So that frustration [00:05:00] and even that kind of empathy to what they’re going through, I think is is a big deal. So yeah I think it’s a mix of who we are and, what we feel our customers need.

Eytan Buchman: So they get it and you can really hear how much the problems that Asaph is talking about resonates with him. He’s not going to start crying about how hard it is to be a data guy, but he’s not not almost crying. The last part is the competitive landscape.

Asaph: Competitive landscape is mostly made of the tech cloud vendors. Some other major kind of players in our space are all significantly bigger than us. And everybody’s playing that, safe game of we’re a big corporate, we’re a very stable, player and . I, we felt like there was, there was a need for making things a bit more fun and playful and not taking yourself too seriously.

Eytan Buchman: This is a tricky one part of the brand personality. He describes stem from the three previous factors. And the other part is a search for sheer differentiation.

Asaph: So that was one of the guiding principles [00:06:00] for everything that we do. We try to be very personal and not formal in the way we approach things. And there’s simply a very big difference to how the rest of the market behaves. So I think this really stands out.

Eytan Buchman: I promised Andy fluff and I will deliver. But first one thing that companies always run into when they’re scaling is being able to teach that same brand voice as a company grows.

Asaph: First of all, there’s kind of an onboarding process, so you know, everybody that joins the company. Gets a bit of an understanding of the thought process around, what’s going on. But I think specifically on the marketing side, it’s something that know, we discuss on a daily basis.

Is this who we are or is this kind of completely off? We have a habit that I highly recommend, that kind of stayed with us since the Covid days. We started having those kind of 15 to 30 minute daily stand up while you’re sitting down sessions. Each from their own home [00:07:00] office. And this is great. It’s just how we start our day, it’s a lot of fun. We talk about anything and everything, from the trashiest Netflix shows to some really important things that are going on.

Have you seen what these guys are doing? Have you seen this campaign? Have you seen what this person posted? So just making sure everybody’s on the same page, but that kind of triggers a lot. Things and discussions and and then I think that alignment across, Okay, that’s interesting. That’s not interesting. . I’m a big believer in alignment and this is key to making sure everybody’s on the same page.

Eytan Buchman: There’s something to this. When you see a shirt, your friend would love, you say, damn that’s so Michael, you know what people say? You know what they’re going to wear, but if you’re suddenly talking on behalf of the company, you need to learn that that yes, no feedback. Every day is a great way to pass on that cultural knowledge. I promised we’d talk about how Firebolt’s brand characteristics play into their actual marketing. It starts with knowing who they are going up against. And for Firebolt, it’s the biggest companies in the world.[00:08:00]

Asaph: when we just launched we made it very clear that we are not some niche. Player were, our aspirations are significant and we are looking to to make a significant dent in this kind of big data universe.

And so what if our main competitors are the cloud vendors themselves and small company called Snowflake. So the fact that there was a gap in this space. So we. Just ran into this into this gap and made it very clear that here, hey, there’s a new horse in this race. And and very early on started comparing ourselves and what we do to some of those, much more, familiar and mature players. And I think that got a lot of it got a lot of attention. It also created a lot of controversy because people said, Oh, who are you? And, how dare you compare yourself, to, to these guys, which it’s fair enough.

And obviously we don’t pretend to be what we’re not, know, we’re not we don’t have the wealth of features and functionality and compliance and governance and all the bells and whistles that, some of the [00:09:00] the other players have. We do have a very powerful analytics engine that is obviously not relevant for everyone in the market, but but is very relevant to some.

I think this approach of being the underdog on one hand and at the same time shooting for the stars is something that really resonated with some the market.

There’s a lot of kind of benchmarking wars going on in this in this space. Each I don’t know every so often a. Vendor, not a new vendor. One of the vendors publishes a big academic study about how their analytics engineers faster and more performant than the others.

And there’s a lot of discussions around that. And it’s a big project. need a lot of engineers who just do that. And, we were super focused on just serving customers rather than do this kind of academic exercise.

So when we got excited and we saw some really amazing results , from. Customers that were actually testing Fireball versus some of the other players. We just went ahead and published that.

Now it lacked, the depth of some of those [00:10:00] academic papers obviously, and it wasn’t exactly as some people expected to be.

And that created even more controversy. So people were saying, How dare you publish results, without having, the full data set and queries available for us to see what you’ve done. So I. Some people consider us to be a scam. Some people think, Wow, that’s exciting.

There’s something very honest and straightforward about this. It’s also a teensy weensy audacious. But one interesting thing is that a brand, like a person, evolves and fireballs also evolved, but in the earlier days they were definitely more cowboy.

Asaph: People keep us honest and look, we’ve also revised how we, we realize that. , this is okay. We’re excited about those results. But yeah, it does require some more, some more data around that, which if we can’t provide at this point, maybe we don’t need to use that anymore. We’ve evolved, we’ve grown.

But but I think that this initial impact of just sharing our excitement about the results we’re seeing, I think create a [00:11:00] lot of a lot of attention. To fireball. And that’s why there’s a lot of people that are coming in, they wanted to see for themselves whether, this is real or not. If we had to wait until we had all those engineers in place to, to just be dedicated to creating those academic benchmarking studies, then we wouldn’t have been, where we are right now.

Here’s another manifestation of brand. Part of thinking like a developer is thinking about what other developers would be searching before. Another is not pretending like mentioning a competitor is taboo. So, how do you beat Google’s bidding against you on Edwards? You take Google’s own error messages and get Google to send you organic traffic themselves. Feisty.

Asaph: We are competing against giants that are spending hundreds of dollars per click, and are competing with Google on AdWords. So it’s pretty crazy that Google is one of the bitters for, some of those keywords. So what we do is we we apply our hacker mentality and try to find those pockets of demand that others simply [00:12:00] don’t don’t do for whatever reason. It could be content specific content that is geared towards harvesting some potentially lower volume keywords, but very high intent. Okay, so one example is error messages. Okay. We specifically map out l messages of some of the tools that we’re looking to replace then we write content around that and get them organically to our website. This is really effective and and highly recommended, but that’s just that’s just one kind of way of looking at traffic and and content.

And if we’re already talking about Google and recognizing that your prospects are Googling you, what have you just went beyond the vanilla comparison pages and just compared multiple vendors with each other instead of yourself.

Asaph: The other thing is, I think it’s a lot of to do with just doing things differently and being creative. We’ve created a whole comparison portal on our own website. Okay. So if you’re looking to to understand how competitor A is versus competitor B then you know, you are most welcome to find all [00:13:00] that information on our own website. You’re, you obviously haven’t looked for Fireball, but we are very relevant to to what you’ve just searched.

The whole kind of A versus B is a big deal. Now B versus A is equally important. It really depends how you search and how you structure this whole section. But this is a huge traffic driver for Fireball right now. The ability to get people familiar with the brand even though they’ve searched for completely two different players, I think is is great.

I would never see, one of the, one of the big players do something like that. I think, many smaller players would also say, Nah, that’s, it’s, we can’t host such content on our website. So that’s that. But, we do a lot of different things. And I think the key word here is just being unique, and entertaining. So people feel comfortable, they like what you do. They just develop affection to everything that you do. And it goes back to this okay, that’s friend that I’d like to have. But it’s a brand. And we [00:14:00] get that all the time. People say we love, you know what you do. We love how you deliver what you’re saying.

Does it come at a price? Sure. But it is so worth it.

Asaph: There’s opposite opinions also. People say, Ah, can’t stand this thing. But yeah, I think anything anything extreme kind of gets both sides of the table.

So to wrap this up, we talked about how companies evolve, just listening to a soft talk. You can hear it. But that evolution depends on having the perfect team. How does he approach team building?

Asaph: Hiring first of all, it’s the most important thing one does as a marketing leader. So making sure those those people are best for the company at this stage. And my personal belief is that experience is important, but much more important than that is the ability to get your hands dirty and the ability and desire to do that. I’m ideally from my perspective, bringing in someone. who managed a certain function, but now, given that this company [00:15:00] is still growing, is not at liberty to come in and hire a ton of people but is willing to to get their hands dirty and be an individual contributor for a while.

I think this is really powerful. Ideally avoiding mistakes and and just running, potentially managing outsourced resources, agencies or whatnot. And then, when the load gets gets crazy, then that’s when you hire the next person.

Eytan Buchman: Before I sign off, there are two things I want to point out. The first is that in the arms race of brand building and content writing the cost to stick out is enormous. When massive companies can bank roll reports, research and guides, you need data. And when data is ubiquitous, you need insights. And even when you have the best possible research and reports and data and insights without the delivery channel, a brand, a voice and a medium that meets your company where they want to be.

You can just save that post on your desktop instead of clicking, publish. The second thing is that you can build a brand, a massive well-known and successful brand [00:16:00] without taking yourselves too seriously, but only if you do it deliberately. You can get a sense of Fairbanks voice and everything from their logo to their content@fireball.com.

And if we’re talking about websites, you can get yourself a bolt of marketing brilliancy bolt. From listening to other marketers and capes episodes at Buckman that’s. Yeah, that I Al. Our next episode is going to be a doozy too. So hit that subscribe button. And if you’re raised subscribed, buy yourself a cup of coffee. You’ve done good today.