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What are your SaaS company's current growth marketing challenges and wins?

October 17, 2023

How One of the Greatest PLG Companies Leaned Into Referral and Word-Of-Mouth Marketing While Saying ‘No’ to Meetings and Hierarchy With Joanie Wang of Expensify

In this episode, Jeanna welcomes Joanie Wang, Director of Marketing and Brand at Expensify, to discuss all things remote work and PLG marketing.

Joanie Wang is the Director of Marketing and Brand at Expensify, a financial super app that helps companies manage expenses — including scanning receipts, paying bills, booking travel, and more. Celebrating nearly 10 years at Expensify, she identifies strategic opportunities to grow the brand globally through storytelling, performance, marketing, and word of mouth. Joanie led Expensify’s award-winning Super Bowl campaign, You Weren’t Born to Do Expenses, and spearheaded the launch of ExpensiCon, the industry’s first all-expenses-paid thought leadership conference. In 2018, Joanie was named a Top 25 Women Leader in SaaS.

 

 

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • What it truly means to be remote-friendly
  • How to leverage hybrid hours and take advantage of unused office space
  • How to modify processes to accompany a remote workplace culture
  • The difference between flat excellence organizational structure versus hierarchy
  • How to efficiently use Slack and utilize it for asynchronous meetings
  • How to nail product-led growth marketing  
  • Why Expensify loves working with First Page Strategy

In this episode…

In this episode of Remotely Cultured, Jeanna chats with Joanie Wang, Director of Marketing and Brand at Expensify, a PLG, remote-first company. 

Joanie not only delves into the nuanced strategies that make a remote-friendly organization tick but also pulls back the curtain on Expensify’s impressive strategy in product-led growth. She and Jeanna dive deep into how Expensify, beyond merely managing expenses, has harnessed the power of word-of-mouth marketing, robust community building, and streamlined referrals to let their product practically sell itself.

Throughout the conversation, Joanie highlights various processes that aid transitions into a remote-friendly organizational structure, including the creation of how-to guides, SOPs, and strategic use of communication platforms like Slack for asynchronous meetings and information sharing. Not stopping there, she enlightens us with how creating explanatory videos and utilizing unused office space for co-working also play vital roles in fostering a productive remote working culture.

In this episode, Joanie not only shares nuggets of wisdom about establishing and maintaining dynamic remote cultures but also gives listeners a sneak peek into the mechanics of effective product-led growth, intertwining practical advice with insightful strategies that have proven successful for Expensify.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Transcript: 

Jeanna: Hey everyone, welcome to Remotely Cultured. I'm your host Jeanna calling in from Roatán, Honduras where I run FPS and host this podcast. This episode is brought to by First Page Strategy. At FPS, we use data and big ideas to produce exponential growth for product-led brands who need to nail their acquisition goals and want to work with a flexible, non-traditional agency. For example, in one year we've grown a client's total revenue 197%, their organic revenue by 300%, and their paid revenue by over 1,000%. If you're a SaaS, FinTech or startup and need to hit your 2023 or 2024 high-growth acquisition goals, check us out at firstpagestrategy.com. All right, so today on the podcast we have a very special guest with us — we have Joanie Wang. Joanie is the Director of Marketing and Brand at Expensify and she identifies strategic opportunities to grow Expensify's brand around the world through creative storytelling, performance marketing, and accelerating word of mouth. She led Expensify's first nationwide advertising campaign You Weren’t Born to Do Expenses starring 2 Chainz and Adam Scott, which won five Cannes Lions Awards. It's amazing. And she also spearheaded the launch of some of Expensify's biggest initiatives including ExpensiCon and LAT Talks. She has been named a Top 25 Women Leader in SaaS. Welcome, Joanie to the pod!

Joanie: Thanks, Jeanna, thanks for having me!

Jeanna: Yeah, nice to have you here. I do want to say Joanie is a special guest of Remotely Cultured today because Expensify is a client of FPS. Not only does Expensify work in a super unique, remote-first way that we love and gels with our team — we're gonna get into a little bit of that today — but their growth marketing is pretty spectacular. So Joanie will cover some of that as well. So but first before we get started, where are you calling in from today, Joanie?

Joanie: I am calling in from Portland, Oregon. I, you know, it's not maybe as fancy or as incredible as some locations you've probably had guests from, but I love it up here. It's, you know, I love the fall. We're just getting into the fall — great outdoors. Great people. I couldn't really imagine myself anywhere else at this point in my life.

Jeanna: I love it. Yeah. And what do you think makes Portland unique for people that haven't been there that might want to visit in the future? Like what do you guys — what are you proud of?

Joanie: Yeah, I think you know, it's hard to say but I think it's a little bit of everything. Like the great outdoors is certainly a big factor. You just meet a lot of people who are super excited to get out there and have interesting hobbies and you know who spend weekends out in the mountains and for me, that's like the kind of energy I want to be around. Of course, you know, Portland's known for their food carts. We love like the Timbers which is our men's soccer team and the Thorns the women's soccer team. So there's a lot of pride for niche things like this and I mean, I hope no one from Portland is listening, but like, it's not niche here. But yeah, just like a lot of great energy here and I think it makes the city super fun to visit too — and live.

Jeanna: Amazing. Great. And how long have you personally been working remote?

Joanie: I've been working remote probably for about seven years or so. And yeah, I think you know, you and I talked a little bit about this in our pre-call before recording, but you know, we were talking about what it means to be remote and you know, it doesn't have to be sitting in a cafe in Bali. You know, that kind of remote can mean being in an established city and having a couple co-workers around you. And so yeah, I've been here for about seven years and not really looking back.

Jeanna: Amazing. And Expensify has been remote-friendly since 2014. And you said you moved fully remote after — or during I should say — during, and then post-pandemic you guys have stayed fully remote. So can you talk a little bit about that ecosystem like how you guys — what you mean by being "remote-friendly" since 2014?

Joanie: Yeah, so I think, you know, at Expensify one of the biggest things we focus on is how we can keep retention. How can we retain employees for the long haul, right? We're hoping you know, the average tenure for a tech company is about 18 months I believe, give or take. 

Jeanna: Wow. 

Joanie: So it's crazy. At Expensify, I think about like 40% of our team has been here six years or more. And so one of the reasons for that is that we really think about you know, what is a job or position or a company that people would want to stay here for the long haul? One of the things that we had realized — so I started in 2014 about nine years ago, maybe a little more than that. And we were primarily an office in San Francisco and Ironwood, Michigan. But as we were hiring, we accept, you know, applications from anywhere. And what we noticed was that there was a lot of really great talent outside of San Francisco and Ironwood, Michigan. And so when we decided that we needed time zone coverage on the success team side, we hired our first person in the UK who was technically our first remote employee. And so we, you know, we went through the motions, we realized it really wasn't that difficult or that bad in terms of not having every single person, you know, in the same location. And so, with that, we realized we kind of uncovered you know, this maybe a hiring secret at the time, which was: everybody is fighting for the tech Silicon Valley, San Francisco talent, not a lot of people. There's so many incredible people in the world with different lifestyles and in different parts, you know, of their lives. And so we basically just started making our job openings open to anyone anywhere in order to find that talent and to bring them in at Expensify. So we've always had that and then of course, with the pandemic, when that hit in 2020, we realized that this was a lifestyle change, you know, it's not going to go away after the pandemic goes away. Again, back then we didn't know how long that would last. But we really needed to adjust for the reality of what was happening in our world. And so what we did was we said, you know what, we're already pretty remote-friendly. Why don't we just take this time as an additional small step to let people go where they want, you know, as long as they can log in, do their job and get their shit done. We don't really care where they live. And so we basically made that formal. We made it so that it is optional to go into our existing offices. So we still have the locations. For example, in Portland, we have an office here, we have one in San Francisco, and New York, people are still welcome to group together if they're all in the same location and find a co-working spot together, but just as easily they are welcome to work from home if their schedule deems that, you know, if they're parents or if things come up unexpectedly, and so this remote-first but hybrid flexibility is kind of where we've landed and it's been working great.

Jeanna: Awesome. So what does it feel like? You know, I'm just interested, do you guys still have like, a fair amount of people — is the company big enough that you're still crossing enough people that decided to go into an office on a daily basis, or does it feel pretty empty?

Joanie: I think um, you know, weekdays, sorry, not weekdays, the middle of the week is when people tend to come in a little bit more, right? You have your Mondays and your Fridays, people tend to prefer to work from home. But I think we get a good crossover, especially in some of the hubs where we have like, a smaller like 10 to 15 groups of people. You see that people really do crave that in-person connection, just working alongside one another. Being able to look up and ask questions really quickly and brainstorm ideas. I think people miss that a lot. And so yeah, we're always open and excited to facilitate that if the interest is there from the people who are in that location.

Jeanna: Awesome. I love that. And did it require any downsizing or did you guys just straight up keep the same office sizes and the same type of space? Or have you altered the space of your offices in any way?

Joanie: Funnily enough for our smaller locations like London and New York, they actually upsized. 

Jeanna: Oh, wow.

Joanie: So we had more people moving to those cities. You know, in addition to like moving to Nashville, or Guatemala, or Antigua. We've had more people moving to the bigger cities. And so we've actually seen those groups get bigger and then having to ask for larger co-working spaces. But in San Francisco where, you know, we used to have the majority of our employees, we didn't really want to let go of our office there because it has this incredible view on the 16th floor overlooking the Bay. And so, we're like, we can't let this one go. So what we did was we turned it into a co-working space for our Expensify users. And so we said, hey, look, they're probably on average seeing —

Jeanna: Wow, amazing! 

Joanie: Yeah, there's like on average, maybe five to 10 employees who come in regularly. You know, we recently remodeled and we're like, why don't we add a bar and a cafe? Like, a place where you can get really great coffee? Add some snacks, and let's turn this into a perk for our Expensify Card holders. And so that's what it is today. You can go visit, 88 Kearney if you're an Expensify customer, and you can just work from there for a day because you know, everybody, sometimes I shouldn't say everybody but most people occasionally want that in-person connect to meet new people and work amongst people even if you never talked to them.

Jeanna: Yeah, I love that so much, what a perk, huh? Um, and you know, going from being remote-friendly in 2014 to being fully remote and distributed in 2023, that is quite different. What processes changed for you guys internally that had to become remote-first or had to change because no one was in one place anymore?

Joanie: Yeah, so I think you know, we were really lucky in that one of our foundation — like our foundations were good, right? And so, for example, we value transparency in the company as much as we can. And so, when we can, all the Slack rooms are open, anyone can just drop by, jump in, like, join a conversation. And that was actually a really great foundation because what we found with Slack is that all of a sudden we have everybody across the world 24/7 basically, right? When I'm when I go to sleep, my colleague in India's waking up and starting his day. And so the way that we keep in touch and communicate is we use Slack asynchronously. What that means is that we, as much as we can, try to get rid of meetings. And so of course one-on-one you can still do in-person, you arrange a time, but anything with like three or more people, we try to do in Slack. And so we'll send out, we encourage people to send out calendar invites as if it's a real meeting, but if you can't get to it, you have you know, we leave the threads open for 24 hours for you to comb through, add your thoughts, read what's going on, and participate. And so, if we have, for some reason, if we need to have an in-person meeting, we will make sure we record it. Usually we try to you know, once we open up the Slack thread, we'll say like, hey, you know, I'm gonna send out a meeting today about how we can work better remotely and so I'll send that calendar invite, and then I'll post different threads in terms of the major topics I want to talk about so that people if they have a specific comment, for example, about working from an office or expensing a co-working spot, they can specifically respond to that comment and that way we can have engagement there. And so you can respond to every single topic by thread. And then at the end, we say, hey, we're gonna leave these open for 24 or 48 hours so that people can get to them. And so leave your comments, leave your questions, let us know. And so we found that to be a very effective way to get people engaged, not to be super overwhelming, and then also just to enable everybody to be able to participate no matter where you are in the world.

Jeanna: That's so great. And from a meeting host perspective, let's say this is your meeting. Obviously there's some preparation, you have to come up with what threads you want to post to have people to participate in. But what does that cut down the time from, like, let's say an hour Zoom, generally, how long does it take you to like, facilitate and host and manage a meeting?

Joanie: Yeah, I think it takes, you know, you have to do the prep as you would with any meeting and usually what I'll do is write it out in a doc, just Word Doc, Google Doc, whatever. And I'll have the points so all I have to do is pre-paste them in. And that way, you know, I know it's not going to be interrupted. In terms of facilitating it really depends on how, like how much people end up having different like opinions how much there is to talk about. If everyone's like, you know, in the best case scenario, everyone's like "great, great, great, great, great, great," it takes no time, right? 

Jeanna: Right. 

Joanie: Maybe five minutes to bask in the thumbs up that you got and then you summarize it and then you send it out. But I find that for the most part, I would say definitely less time than an in-person meeting because oftentimes, I don't know about you, but when we were doing calls people would often be late and then you have to wait for every single person. And then you know, people get off topic and tangential and so of course that happens in threads as well, but it happens a lot less often because everyone's just focused on, you know, the topic that is written down and everyone can see it.

Jeanna: Yeah, and what a cost-saver, right? Instead of having 10 people full time, an hour of their time, 10 hours you're paying for a meeting kind of a thing. It just really adds up, and this is like, this is a big thing I talk about a lot in being remote-first versus being remote is this idea of async work and not leaning on Zoom. Because I feel like there's this misconception that oh yeah, we work remote, too. But really all people did was go home and sit in front of Zoom six to eight hours a day. Then you have Zoom fatigue and your work piles up because you don't actually have any time to do the work. You're just sitting on Zoom. So we actively try to avoid that at First Page and you guys are doing it in a really cool, unique creative way. I love it. But when did you start kind of following the async life as well and like outlining those processes at Expensify? Like when did you guys start async meetings?

Joanie: I think for us it was pretty gradual actually. Because we, you know, we've always been remote-friendly, we didn't really put a barrier up in terms of who we would hire from where. And so gradually we started realizing like, you know, in terms of us trying to be inclusive, transparent, and all of that, we realized that there were some people that it just isn't — it's difficult to match up. And so, for example, two of our biggest, like, centers for a while was Australia and London. And it's really hard for all three time zones with the US to overlap. 

Jeanna: Yeah, you can't. 

Joanie: Exactly. Even as early as that we started realizing like, how do we do this in a way that colleagues from all three geographic locations can participate? And so you know, first we were, you know, alternating between doing meetings in the morning and at night so that one team or the other could be part of it. And we realized that wasn't really working because there might be someone in the other office who had like, great insight, but they couldn't participate. But then we started recording the meetings and then we started saying like, okay, actually, let's try just to write down this meeting so that anyone can be involved. And so I can't pinpoint an exact time but I think it was —

Jeanna: An involved process. 

Joanie: Yeah. 

Jeanna: And it was led by the fact that you are trying to solve the communication of people already in other communities, other locations. 

Joanie: Exactly. 

Jeanna: And, you know, this is — it's a unique way of working to some people because not everybody's here yet. We work like this at FPS. And so this is progressive to a lot of companies still trying to figure this stuff out. Do you find that people come in that you hire at Expensify and struggle to work like this or how are people supported to understand working within like Slack and project management systems like Jira and ClickUp?

Joanie: Yeah, I think more and more it's becoming the standard almost, but definitely early on we had people who loved the idea of working remote but had no idea how to start. And so you know, this was their first job remote or or something like this. And so, we basically asked the people who were doing it really well in our company to write up like a how-to guide and we say like, hey, how do you succeed being remote in a company where you know, we are remote-friendly, but the majority of people are on Pacific time or East Coast time. And, and so, over time, you know, we had that first draft from an employee from the UK and then over time, we just reiterated on best practices, especially as we went through big changes like with a pandemic and whatnot. And so, you know, it goes from as simple as like, hey, make sure you know if you're this type of person, have a dedicated set up so that you don't have to futz with it every day. You just know you go there, you just open the laptop and you're good to go. You know, something as simple as this to you know, how to manage your time if you have other distractions, how do you make sure you get all your stuff done? You know, and balance the personal and private and how do you, you know, all of those things. And so it's been really great. And we have a lot of documentation like this where we just constantly iterate and update it as things change. And yeah, and it's worked really well for us.

Jeanna: Great. And so you talked a little bit about how you guys run meetings async in Slack, you're not doing Zoom calls, people can join anytime and kind of leave their messages within 24 hours. Is there anything else that's unique to Expensify? How you guys work remote that you don't think other companies might do or that you might want to tell our listeners to implement?

Joanie: I think one thing that we're really vigilant about and why we love working with FPS is that we look for the same in our partners. Because we established this great way of working internally, but like you mentioned, you know it's kind of — it's not the norm yet in most companies. And so when we look for partners, when we work with vendors, things like that, we want to make sure that they're comfortable with written communication that they're comfortable with presenting decks without necessarily having to walk through and explain everything to us, which makes it so that they have to be super on top of how they communicate. And so like, you know, FPS does this thing that I think it was the first time with a vendor that I love is that your team will send us decks and then if there's an explainer or something they want to dive a little bit deeper into, they'll have like a little link that says watch this video and then we can take our time to watch the video and watch them explain it. And what we found is, when we work with vendors like this, it's incredible because everything is written down. So you know if I said something, and I forgot, you can just point back to what I said. It's like hey, you said this. So are we going to do it and it keeps everybody a little bit more accountable. And frankly, it's just faster, like we don't have to switch to email. We're all already in Slack anyway. And we find that communication is so much more effective this way when you can directly communicate and then everyone can see that too, that we're not answering the same questions to 20 different people between you know, our team.

Jeanna: Yeah. We've, you know, we talked a little bit about this. And it's interesting, right, because I don't think that companies and vendors are thinking about this, but there are really different ways of working emerging. There are the companies that are more progressive and are working remote and have processes documented in Slack and like async, and then there's some companies that are not doing that. And you really, to work effectively, have to find partners that are working similar ways, even if it is like, hey, we're in the office, we still work by email. Like say that and find a partner that works in an office and like loves emails. 

Joanie: Exactly. 

Jeanna: Because we do find clients that it's a struggle when they don't understand how Slack works, or how to thread comments and like we've spent so much time training our team in ways to work inside these tools for efficiency and best communication and video communication versus written communication. But when you work with brands and people that don't understand that, it does kind of make like, just — it's almost like traffic stopping at stoplights, right and it's difficult. So I love that you are partners that work like that too. And you guys have a really wonderful, I think this is a best practice that anybody listening that wants to implement better remote work standards in their company or their team, you guys do a really thorough like incredible Working with Expensify document that I know definitely helped our team understand exactly like your guys's culture and your working styles. It's pretty in-depth, pretty long. It might take some time to read it, but I think it's something that's great that your partners or even internal people can go back and reread it when you're new and all of that and in the document you talk a lot about you know, flat excellence versus hierarchy, which I think can be a unique concept for many companies. So what does that kind of difference in hierarchy and in leaning into flat excellence mean for you guys? Can you explain that? 

Joanie: Yeah, definitely. What we mean by flat excellence and, you know, going flat versus hierarchies. Inevitably, you do need some decision-making chain or someone to call the shots at some point or another. But at Expensify we try to minimize that to what's actually necessary, right? We don't — there's a lot of time and energy wasted on middle management, people checking up on other people, micromanaging, and frankly, nobody likes that. Nobody likes to be micromanaged. We're all adults. We can do our work and we can be damn good at it. And so, at Expensify we basically have, you know our CEO and our directors. We have a C-suite, but that's really for public-facing needs, right? And so internally we say, you know, you can pick whatever title you want for the external, like if you need like a customer to talk to you or a partnership or whatnot, as long as nobody else, like challenges you on that — and maybe challenge is not the right word. But called you out on it. Right? So I can't call myself CEO, someone's gonna call me out on that, right?

Jeanna: Yeah, right. 

Joanie: But I picked a title that is representative of my work and what I do and how I contribute to the company and that way, you know, it's not an ego-driven thing in terms of like, who are you, what you do. But what that also means is that when you are flat, you give a lot of like, you give a lot of the power to the individual employees to make decisions to figure out what's the best route of work to do and it means that they don't have to always check in with someone, right? And so you don't have to necessarily ask for permission. So the collaboration conversation then is more focused around is this the best idea, is the solution that I propose going to solve the problem? Is this the best way to execute the solution or do other people have better ideas? And so we're really able to focus on, you know, growing the business, getting new customers, making our current customers happy, making our internal employees happy, whatever that thing that we're trying to do is we can focus on that rather than, Oh, well. I want to make this proposal but now I have to get ABCDEFGH people to sign off and, you know, and check those boxes. And so we found that to be super effective. I think a lot of people are surprised when they find out that Expensify is about 130-135 people and our you know average revenue per employee is 1.2 million ARR, give or take. And so that's really high. And we really pride ourselves on that because, you know, we're very lean and we want to cut the fat, but we also recognize that the way to do that for us is to recognize that every person here is great at their job, knows what they need to do and can just get shit done a lot faster and a lot more effectively without all the red tape that traditional companies have.

Jeanna: Yeah. And you know, with this way of working like, flat hierarchy like, just get your job done, don't ask for permission don't work within red tape, work async, do you guys find like that you have to change your hiring practices to find people that are going to be okay working like this? Because I feel like some people will thrive in that and then others won't. So how do you find the right people?

Joanie: Yeah, definitely. You're 100% right. There's some people who need more structured environments, and that's okay. And there's some people who are great if you just tell them, "I need this", and then they go off and run with it. And so the way that we screen that, we have a pretty thorough and in-depth hiring process. And so, you know, typically you send an application, you get interviewed a couple times on the phone and then you come for an on-site, but one of the most important things about the application is the question that we ask, what do you want to do with your life and how does Expensify get you there? How can Expensify help you there? And the reason why we ask for this is because this answer will indicate if there's something that is driving you to do whatever you're doing, right. You're so excited about this personal or life goal or whatever you want to call it, a career goal, that you will do anything to get to there. You know, I mean, relatively anything like you know, be nice, be cool, whatever. Great to work with. But in general, like you're so ambitious, and you're trying you will figure out how to get there. And so when we find people like this, where that clicks for them, they are by default, you know, they're ambitious, they're good at problem-solving, because they have something that they're working towards and they're trying to figure out ways to get there, right? And then, of course, there's the collaboration aspect. Like, it's much easier to do things and achieve your goals with a group of people than it is by yourself. And so there's a lot of things like that that we look out for and not every time, you know, it works out, and that's okay. I think once the individual is able to identify that we also provide support, like you know, mentors, we pair people up in the company, like a mentor, to help you. Like currently, my mentor is also in marketing slash on the accounting side, but my previous mentors, like I had an engineering mentor — actually I've had two engineering mentors. I've had one who did strategy, one who did product and so just learning from different sources and getting that feedback is another way we can support, you know, everybody, individually.

Jeanna: Great. Another thing you talk about in this Working with Expensify document quite a bit is this idea of working in a non-blocking style, which I know you've covered this a little bit but I'd love for you just to explain how this comes to life in your work culture at Expensify and how that transforms how everybody works.

Joanie: Yeah, so it's this interesting line between, you're not asking for permission to do certain things, so nobody can block you on what you want to do. But people can give you feedback on whether or not they think it's a good idea and whether or not you should pursue it or change it or do it this way or that way. And so that way, everybody has their own autonomy, and can do what they want, but at the same time, there's certain like checks and balances. So people don't go off the rails and all of a sudden, you know, something goes wrong or you know, there's a huge expense that no one's expecting, or, you know, whatever that is. And so, one of the ways that we account for that is through our compensation process as well, right? Basically, anybody in the company can partake if you're a mentor or above on a people development track you are obligated to partake. But basically, you get shown two employee's profiles and you see like, you know, they have something like a little Twitter profile, right, like 280 characters, they have their GitHub stats, they have these projects that they've worked on, whatever other team stats are relevant. And basically, as the person reviewing or doing comp review, you are basically choosing, who should I pay more? If I had $1 to give, who should I give it to? And so you do this match, you know, 9000 times — there's a little bit of automation, but essentially, you match every single employee against each other. And you pick, right? So, even though we're non-blocking, you don't want to go off like, if I propose that we spent, you know, millions of dollars working with someone, like, you know, a lot of people are coming back into it like, Joanie, it's not the best use of time and money currently, what's the strategy behind it, and so forth. So I could go do it. But I probably won't if there's a lot of feedback that this isn't the right direction to go at this time.

Jeanna: I love that. So it's almost like using the collective masses and all the different brains you have and perspectives of roles and people and backgrounds to assess everything that might happen, could go wrong, needs to be thought about before a project is done.

Joanie: Definitely, it can get very overwhelming, especially when you say it like that, but, you know, we trust people to focus on what they need to focus on. They don't have to focus on every single thing. And so there's a lot of autonomy in this role.

Jeanna: But I love that. It might sound overwhelming to some but what I love about that is I don't think that happens enough in companies that are hierarchical, because oftentimes there's one person, might be a head of people, they're building a strategy, and they're going forward with it. And the only person that reviewed that was the CEO, right? And so there's a lot of people at the company, maybe in what would some would say lower levels, that effects their role, they've heard or seen things that happened that the other higher levels didn't think about. So it kind of knocks those walls down and make sure that you're really like thinking through changes or initiatives at a accompany in a really holistic way. I love that.

Joanie: Yeah. And if you can explain to your team like, why you're doing something or why is this helpful and why this is going to be better for the company, I find that a lot of times, like it gets people on board, right? Like we're all human, we want to know the reason why we're doing something we don't want to just be told we should do X, Y, and Z. Especially if we don't agree with it.

Jeanna: Right, yeah. Kind of gives people the why. So with the you know, touching back on like the async presentations, the async meetings in Slack, you guys use Slack a lot at the company. And I know we use Slack a lot at FPS as well, but I have, I pay a lot of attention to kind of the news in remote and there are certain sets of people that think that Slack is not so good because it kind of — it taps into that feeling that we all get with Instagram and we have to check our Instagram or Facebook, we have to check our messages all the time, you're squirreling away and checking slack instead of like focusing on deep work. So I just want to kind of get your opinion on that and like how you can leverage Slack properly and how to ensure it doesn't derail your workday and you're participating but you're not, you know, not spending so much time that you can't focus on larger scale projects. So how do you effectively do that?

Joanie: Yeah, so Slack has this great system of prioritizing people, messages, and groups. And so what I do is I always star the most important rooms to me, in terms of who I'm working with, what projects I'm on, what do I want to pay attention to? And those are the ones I always check at least once an hour or something like this. Everything else, you know, maybe not every company is as transparent as ours so you can't join as much and it's not an issue, but everything else I just have it in this like — I start bucketing them in different ways. And so that way I, you know, I'll put it in like fun, nice to have, like, medium, you know? So the fun ones are like, you know, social or we have a room called ExpensiPups where people share photos of their dogs. Those are fun things where you get to, where you can see people's like home construction projects. But then like the medium-tier ones are maybe projects that are adjacent or they're larger rooms that I don't have a specific function in, for example, like customer success or account management, like I'm not an account manager, but for me, it's important to keep on top of like who our customers are, what is what are they loving? What are they wanting to improve? So I'll have probably have that as a medium-tier room where I'm like, hey, when I have time, I'll read over these notes and I'll see what's going on. Maybe just browse, but I know that I don't need to hit that up until I need to, right? Same thing with engineering rooms, things like that. And then of course the high-priority are the ones like I have to get to and so the way that I kind of balance the deep work versus the pings is, once in a while, like, I will have set times in my calendar where if I feel like I'm not getting enough done, I'll just turn on Do Not Disturb. I'll put it on the side and you know, just work for an hour or two or whatever it is until I need to get that done. I am someone that is obsessive about clearing out my notifications. So that's eaiser said than done. 

Jeanna: Yeah. 

Joanie: But I find that even if you're able to find like 25-minute pockets like that's enough to get like a bunch of stuff done for me and like to start thinking deeply about something and it's worked quite well for me. Personally, I know it gets it's a little bit difficult to get in but once you're in the cycle and rhythm, like you kind of get a feel for your day too, especially based on your timezone. Like you know, in PST, a lot of our team is based out of here so I know that the mornings are a little bit quieter because I've already read most of the messages right? Of course there are some because we have teammates from all over the world. But if there's nothing urgent in my critical like focus groups, then I'll just go straight into, you know, doing edits or blog posts or working on my project or whatever that is. And then I try to schedule my meetings in the afternoons as much as I can because that's when — you know, everybody talks about this — you get that dead time of like, oh, like I can't have a coffee but, you know, I need to wake up somehow. And so if I do have one-on-one meetings or things or calls I'll put them down there. But that's also another you know, this is the beauty of working remote is sometimes I'll just switch locations and I'll go to work from a cafe and that hustle and bustle, you know, brings me to a place where I'm like okay, I can like dive into work again and spend the second half of my day reenergized.

Jeanna: Yeah, yeah, I think that honestly is like the key to being successful. I hear this a lot. I've experienced this myself. You really have to be structured in your schedule and making things work for you because remote work is open to letting people work in the ways that work for them. It's like okay, time block your calendar, set your notifications, decide when you're going to do XYZ and not and it has to work for your timezone. So yeah, that's great advice. All right. So before we move on, talk a little bit about growth marketing. I just wanted to close out and say that, you guys clearly are a very forward-thinking company working in a way that not every company has figured out, doing a lot of async, leveraging tools. What does the future of remote work look like at Expensify? Is there something that's not working for you guys that you're discussing, trying to optimize, trying to implement? Like what's going on behind the scenes?

Joanie: Yeah, I think one thing that we're always trying to optimize is this information overload, right? Like how, in a company that's so transparent, that it's so Slack-focused, how can you make sure that people are focused on what they need to do and not get too buried in the noise, right? So they're not spending all their time on Slack. And so that's always something that we are up against. I think it will continue to be especially, again, as we go into a more hybrid world, and so forth. So you know, I don't have any great answers for you there but I know that for us a lot of documentation, a lot of writing best practices, things like that are helpful and then I think we also you know we do do two official team meet up twice a year, offshore and onshore, where for onshore we work together, anybody who wants to come, it's not mandatory. For one week we pick a city in North America. And we all work from there. And like we've done Asheville, Santa Fe, we've done Montreal or not Montreal, sorry, Quebec City, a couple others. And then what's happening actually right now is in the fall will usually do a three-week retreat somwhere, anywhere in the world. 

Jeanna: Cool! 

Joanie: All they have to have is good WiFi and you know beaches because why not? Right?

Jeanna: Right, beaches rule.

Joanie: Yeah, exactly. So this year, we're in Bali, and actually this is our first week. I unfortunately wasn't able to make the first week.

Jeanna: Oh, okay.

Joanie: But that get-together time I think does help with a lot of the you know, frustrations or things that might come up as a result of always chatting on a computer versus in-person. 

Jeanna: Gotcha. So solving some of those things together.

Joanie: Yeah. 

Jeanna: Great! Let's shift a little bit and talk about growth marketing as we close out the podcast. You yourself are heading up marketing and brand at Expensify, that's a really big role. And you guys are one of the best tech companies out there. So I'd just love to hear, like, what is core to Expensify's growth as you guys are growing in company, in revenue? What channels are really working for you and what are you testing out?

Joanie: Yeah, I think we've been really lucky at the company. We've always grown through word of mouth. We've designed Expensify — the app — to be something that you can share really easily with your colleagues, your friends, your boss, whoever. And so by design, we've been super lucky that's always been the main driver. And so, one of our core strategies has always been this idea of building community, and within specific niches as well, right? Because the word of mouth is great to get, you know, and naturally we build solid communities and you know, like in tech, in nonprofits, and things like that. But what we found is that there are huge communities out there who go to conferences, who go to in-person events, who share knowledge with one another, and in order to bridge that gap and like, you know, provide them something that they need but also open new customer channels for us, we'll show up and and be part of that community. 

Jeanna: Okay.

Joanie: You know, we hold ExpensiCon, things like that. And so when we think about adjusting the channels and what we're doing now, as we evolve and shift at the company, we need a bunch of foundational support to build on top of that word of mouth. And so you know, we've always had SEO, we've always done SEM, but one of the reasons why we're working with FPS is to really accelerate and drive that even faster than we could just in-house alone. And so that's something that we're you know, focusing on in addition to the activities that we've always been doing.

Jeanna: Okay, and so we talk about SEO, paid, and content normally are like the main growth channels — and those are also channels we're working with you guys on — but not a lot of brands talk about this idea of word-of-mouth marketing. It's not you know, a channel that you see listed on agency profiles and it's not really something that people say hey, this is our successes, all because of word-of-mouth marketing, but this is unique to Expensify I think in many ways and that you guys have been really successful with so I'd love to hear kind of like what word of mouth marketing is to you and how you guys have leveraged this and seen success with it?

Joanie: Definitely. I think, you know, the basic concept is just that we love referring things. You know, if you went to Portugal and someone mentioned that they're going to go to Portugal, you're going to be like, you have to go to the five places that I love, right? That's innate enough, or they're like, these are the incredible restaurants you can't miss. And so imagine that kind of, like excitement but for a product, right? And you have probably been like this before and so have I, sometimes you just come across something and you're like, why doesn't anyone care about this? Why isn't this bigger? Why don't people know about it? And so word of mouth for us just means, you know, we find the users, the customers, who love Expensify, who are huge champions of us, and we work with them to amplify our message, right? It's always stronger to hear from a third party about how great Expensify is versus from Expensify itself. Like, you know, I could say like Jeanna is the best person I've ever met. And if I told someone that they would believe me more than if you said that about yourself to them, right?

Jeanna: Oh, yeah.

Joanie: And so we leveraged that. We turn our customers into our speakerphones, you know, and we grow and build with them. As we also like, try to achieve those those marks ourselves. So we take them along for the ride, basically. And yeah, and so there's that element of it. And then in product, we build it so that it's very easy to share Expensify with other people. So building a referral program in the app. You know, money is something that's very interesting because it's never an individual activity. It's always with someone, at least one other person, right? When you think about paying your bills, paying your invoices, reimbursing employees, it could be even as like, hey, we went out to dinner and we need to split the check. It's never just by yourself for the most part and so it has a lot of — our product has had a lot of, luckily, like, potential to to be spread by the individuals that use them.

Jeanna: Okay, so for founders or, or marketing leaders, it's focusing on referral programs, making sure that your product is easy to use, easy to share, and that you're leveraging communities and really creating opportunities to connect and create advocates out of your out of your users.

Joanie: Building those champions, you know, inviting them to speak when you have speaking opportunities, inviting them to, you know, special events, things like that, and being their advocate.

Jeanna: So do you guys have an internal program that manages that? Like do you have someone that manages, like, community for your brand and is thinking about ways you can develop the office in San Francisco for your users or, you know, managing high-end relationships and inviting people to be speakers? Like what does that look like internally for you guys to develop that?

Joanie: Actually, that's part of everybody's job implicitly, right? 

Jeanna: Yeah.

Joanie: When you're building product, you want to think about who is using this? How can I get them to invite more people? How can they, how can I make this product, solve their problems and change their lives? Right? On the marketing side, we're always trying to connect people who are similar or who might have this problem with our solution. We're going to these conferences, we're engaging, we created ExpensiCon, which is our own partner conference —

Jeanna: Love that. 

Joanie: — to facilitate all these transactions and interpersonal connections. And so it's engineering, same thing as product. Like I think it's something kind of like diversity, equity, and inclusion that we try to incorporate in every single part of the job and so it's not just one person or team that is responsible for it.

Jeanna: Amazing. All right, so looking next for your marketing team. What are you guys looking to accomplish this year? And where are you aiming for 2024?

Joanie: Yeah, so we are super, I mean, I hope everyone's excited about the future. But we have a lot on our plate. We have this new app out called New Expensify that is chat-based and so a lot of our efforts will be focused on, you know, testing, reiterating on that and getting communities — this is one of the tools I was talking about earlier about, how do we get communities in our product and how do we get them to engage with each other — and so that's probably going to be a huge focus. How do we brand and sell, I guess, this product and make it so that people understand what it is? Because it's not just about business expenses anymore. It's about personal, it's about the the community-building aspect as well. So it's going to be a challenge as it is with any new product that gets on the market, but we're excited for that.

Jeanna: Cool! I love that. We'll keep an eye out for it and help you get the word out. All right, so final three questions for you today, Joanie, as we wrap up this podcast today. First is, what is your one #workfromanywhere item or tool that you could never live without?

Joanie: Oh my god, my mouse. Maybe that sounds a little old school but yeah, I used to have the 16 inch Macbook and, you know using your finger to drag across the trackpad is it's awful.

Jeanna: Trackpads are the worst!

Joanie: You don't have to tell me twice. I invested in you know, like, I love to talk about whatever. And it's been life changing. I'm like, it's ergonomic. I don't have any, you know, hand issues, whatever. Yeah, highly recommend.

Jeanna: And what's your remote work productivity hack that you want to share with our listeners?

Joanie: Um, I mean, I think maybe this is pretty simple, but for me, I really try to take lunch, like an actual lunch and going out with my coworkers, you know, we'll go to the food carts or somewhere and we'll, even if we bring it back to the office, just have a little bit of downtime that helps you re-energize and get ready for the second half of the day.

Jeanna: Amazing. Great advice, block that lunch out. That's what I started doing in my calendar, too. And if someone wanted to learn more about you and/or Expensify where should they go online?

Joanie: Yeah. So to learn about Expensify you can go to you know, use.expensify.com and we'll have more info there. For me, I think the most active channel is probably LinkedIn and so you can just search Joanie Wang Expensify, and I'll be right there. But yeah, I try not to do too much social. So yeah, here we are.

Jeanna: Cool. Joanie, it was so nice to have you on the podcast today. Thank you for joining us on Remotely Cultured.

Joanie: Thanks for having me, Jeanna, loved it! 



 

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