In February of 2021, million-dollar bootstrapped entrepreneur and growth marketer, Jesse Pujji, called his middle-school best friend, Adriane Schwager, and made her a career-changing offer.
After a decade of running a wildly successful recruitment program at an investment firm and trading euro-to-dollar options, Adriane was ready to be her own boss. A recent mother, she was thinking of starting a daycare, but the terms were wrong. And she could feel in her bones that something better was in store.
When she got a call from Jesse to discuss her moves, he told her about an idea for a new type of marketing business that he’d been sitting in for years. Jesse just needed someone he trusted with a background in HR to realize it. In a heartbeat, he realized Adriane was that person.
“A crazy energy ripped through me as I said, ‘I have the perfect idea!’” Jesse says.
Jesse spent the rest of that evening convincing Adriane to become cofounder and CEO of his brainchild, GrowthAssistant. Its mission would be to connect startups with qualified contract marketers in places like the Philippines specialized in growing organic channels. Though she’d never run a business or worked in marketing, Adriane agreed to step up as CEO with Jesse in an advisory role.
On the back of Adriane’s recruiting prowess, GrowthAssistant became a working company within days. One hundred days later, on May 5, 2021, Jesse proudly tweeted the business had crossed $5,000,000 in revenue with only five full-time employees in the US and a star-studded list of clients like DoorDash, Noom, and Varsity Tutors.
Today, they’ve carried on that momentum, gunning to recruit the top one percent of marketers for every startup and direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand globally. Here’s how these two cofounders leveraged the power of experience and networking to create a revolutionary recruitment business at light speed.
In-House Teams Are Way Too Slow
After three years of working at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey after college, Jesse made millions in the decade following 2009. He did it by working as cofounder and CEO of a bootstrapped growth marketing agency called Ampush.
Growth marketing, for those unfamiliar, is marketing focused on organic channels like SEO, social media, and affiliate networks. It’s one of the most cost-effective ways to grow sales and leads over time.
While from humble origins, Ampush was a preferred marketing partner of Facebook, Google, and virtually all major digital ad platforms by the end of 2020. It enjoyed a representative at each of those businesses it could call about ads. Oh yes, its client roster also includes tech giants like Supercell, Uber, and Esurance.
I am consistently surprised by how unproductive in-house marketing teams are.
Though Ampush was successful, Jesse stepped down as CEO to take a role as executive chairman in 2020 to spend more time with his family. During his newfound free time, he began investing in DTC brands – making dozens of calls every day. Through speaking with brands, he noticed a gaping flaw in their marketing: They frequently kept their team entirely in-house. Compared to Jesse’s well-oiled agency approach, their growth crawled.
“I am consistently surprised by how unproductive in-house marketing teams are,” says Jesse. “What they get done in a quarter takes the Ampush team less than one month. I started to ask why.”
It didn’t take Jesse long to conclude that most teams waste too much time on low-value tasks. Ampush had relied on remote contractors in the Philippines to do time-consuming yet relatively low-skilled tasks like video editing, content creation, and email updates. In contrast, the DTC brands he spoke to expected their in-house teams to handle everything related to their role.
Jesse realized he could easily help brands source growth marketers in the Philippines as he had for nitty-gritty work at Ampush. He envisioned a month-by-month contracting service that could source, train, and implement growth marketing teams quickly for brands.
“I believe growth marketing today is where software engineering was in the ‘90s,” he claims. “There’s astronomical demand around the corner.”
However, Jesse knew he could not do the project himself – he was an experienced growth marketer but lacked HR and recruiting expertise. He parked the idea for years until his call with Adriane in 2021.
Adriane’s career took a more corporate trajectory than Jesse’s. After graduating with a business degree in 2006, she worked as a campus recruiter for hedge fund, DRW Trading Group. Adriane held that role for six years before running DRW’s leasing, asset management, and trading arm for another seven.
Throughout her career, Adriane specialized in recruitment and training. Most notably, she created a program within DRW that teaches over 350 engineers to trade investment assets.
With their combined backgrounds, trust, and wattage, this quickly became a dream team.
A Validated Business On Day One
Most founders will tell you a bias for action takes you far. Adriane pondered the offer to become a cofounder for only ten days before giving Jesse a yes. After that, the duo got to work. They created an Excel sheet with a list of DTC brands in Jesse’s network and cold-called all of them. In one day, with nothing more than an idea, they earned five clients.
“We started recruiting as soon as we got our first yes,” says Adriane.
Within months, using some of Jesse’s connections for recruiting in the Philippines and her own, Adriane created a pipeline of trained and certified candidates. GrowthAssistant ate its own dog food initially to assure product quality, hiring its first employees through Adriane’s training program – a practice they still use today.
Businesses need to spend twenty percent of their time recruiting, even when they’re not hiring.
“Active recruiting is a growth hack,” she says. “Businesses need to spend twenty percent of their time recruiting, even when they’re not hiring. When you have an open position you can hire faster, hire better, and get more candidates referred if you network before roles become available.”
Clients were happy with the first batch of growth assistants – after all, Jesse had successfully implemented a similar model internally at Ampush for ten years. However, Adriane believes the first round of recruits took far too long to vet and train. As Adriane got more familiar with rote marketing tasks, she became more aware of which traits were must-haves and which were not.
“Originally, I was writing down a lot of must-haves that made our recruiting efforts harder for every role,” she says. “We found these people, and they did an amazing job, but I think learning what truly is a must-have versus a nice-to-have in our marketplace is important.”
One example of a must-have that she recalibrated to nice-to-have was graphic designers. New tools like Canva have lowered the entry barrier to design. Things like graphics on emails and social media posts can now be done by almost anyone in a matter of moments.
“Graphics designers and email marketers are two must-haves for every business but are hard to find together,” she says. “If I’d known graphic design was just using Canva ten percent of the time, we could have placed our first group much faster.”
After sourcing marketers for their first clients, Adriane needed to work hard to keep up with demand. Over the pandemic, brands everywhere realized they could get a leg-up on their competition with remote and global growth marketers. They began searching for recruiting businesses like GrowthAssistant as they clamored for these less-costly marketers.
“We had a competitive advantage in hiring with Jesse’s experience and network,” Adriane says. “It’s broad enough that we can work with almost anyone but narrower than ‘we staff everything.’”
GrowthAssistant received another huge boost when they helped well-known influencer, marketer, CEO, and investor, Nik Sharma, create a powerful growth marketing team. As a result, Nik gave GA a shoutout in one of his massively popular newsletters, and Jesse wrote a Twitter post announcing their progress that went viral. After that, they were forced to create a six-month waiting list.
Hiring Only the Top One Percent
GrowthAssistant isn’t the first business to outsource marketers from other countries. Adriane says what makes them different is they vet thoroughly to hire only the top one percent of them.
Today, GrowthAssistant faces a problem most marketplaces can only dream of: Not only does it have a client waiting list extending six months, but it also receives around one thousand applicants for growth assistant positions every week. Most are from ads on job boards, Facebook, TikTok, referrals, and paid media.
“In places like the Philippines, we’re one of the highest-paying and fastest hiring options,” says Adriane.
To qualify for a position, each growth assistant must possess a college degree and pass a short certification and interview system designed by Jesse and Adriane. “Every potential new hire goes through several rounds of testing and interviews,” Adriane says. “We spend a lot of time vetting for skills and culture fit, but we’ve gotten the whole process down to about two weeks.”
Trust Your Team
Adriane is not your typical first-time startup CEO. She works hard but jealously guards her time so she can spend enough with her family. Here too, her recruiting expertise and ability to delegate come in handy.
When we can’t release control, we operate from a place of fear. Fear is not how you want to run your business.
“When we can’t release control, we operate from a place of fear,” she says. “Fear is not how you want to run your business. Hire an executive assistant before you think you need one. You’ll free up so much of your time – which is truly your most valuable asset.”
At Growth Assistant, Adriane still hires from her contractor pool. Their team recently crossed $12 million ARR with ten full-time employees in the US. The other 30-plus are located around the world. “We hire at least three offshore team members for every stateside team member,” she says. “We crossed three million in revenue before our first full-time US hire.”
Adriane and Jesse believe they’re perfectly set up to take the largest global market share for growth-marketing hires. In their opinion, they offer something every brand needs – even if they might not realize it.
“The future is global,” Adriane adds. “Every department of every business in every town has some list of tasks or manual work that they could use a growth assistant for.”