The Growth Hacking Agency Led By a Rocket Scientist and an Investment Banker
Deviate Labs, an innovative growth hacking marketing agency, was founded by Raymond Fong and Chad Riddersen. We, at Business and Leadership, are intrigued by how unique individuals with extremely different backgrounds can work together to create an environment and company that thrives.
Deviate Labs provides growth marketing services in a variety of verticals. Their work with Dollar Shave Club and their clients on Shark Tank caught our attention. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Fong and Riddersen for an interview:
What are your educational backgrounds and how do they benefit Deviate Labs today?
Raymond: I acquired my undergraduate degree in engineering from Harvey Mudd College. While working in the aerospace industry as a systems engineer on top-secret government projects, I obtained my graduate degree in engineering from the University of Southern California.
I love leveraging my analytical mind and engineering training to take on a methodical and systematic approach to marketing. My background helps tremendously in assembling powerful and profitable marketing processes for our clients.
Chad: I graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in Accounting at the age of twenty and spent the following summer becoming a certified Alaskan mountain guide. While Deviate Labs does have squeaky clean books because of my accounting training, it is likely that adventuring in Alaska better prepared me for the adventure of starting a marketing agency. You never know what’s around the next corner and you have to be prepared for anything.
How did you two turn to marketing and ultimately start Deviate Labs together?
Raymond: After five years in engineering, I discovered my passion lay in marketing and consulting. I’ve always been fascinated with business during my growing up years. I started teaching myself marketing (thanks to the plethora amount of information on the internet) and went on to establish myself as a recognized expert in the internet marketing arena.
I met Chad at a gym at a time when I was ready for a change. I’ve been training individual entrepreneurs since 2005 and I was interested in consulting for bigger companies, including fast-paced startups. Chad shared the same interests and in 2014, we cofounded Deviate Labs.
Chad: After college, I worked as an investment banking analyst helping companies raise capital and get acquired. Over the course of three years, I participated in 500+ conversations with entrepreneurs and each valuation discussion inevitably became an academic conversation about growth. After the 499th conversation, I was compelled to switch over to the other side of the table and take an active role in helping companies grow. After a few freelancing engagements as a one-person-army, I serendipitously met Raymond, we started a growth hacking marketing consulting agency and the rest is history.
What are the top three priorities of Deviate Labs?
- Help our clients achieve their growth goals
- Help our clients achieve their growth goals
- Help our clients achieve their growth goals
In all seriousness, we are fully focused and committed to helping our clients grow by any means possible. Our clients range from tech startups to pop stars to multi-billion dollar Korean conglomerates – which means we are constantly adapting and evolving our priorities and approach. The perennial priority at the top of the list is our clients.
What are Deviate Labs main performance indicators? How are they measured and echoed throughout the business?
The greatest compliment we as an organization can receive is to see our clients succeed through our efforts and as a result, stay with us as clients for the long term. We often become key collaborators, conspirators, and confidants which produces a direct return on investment for our clients (albeit attribution is notoriously challenging as we work so closely with our clients that success has many contributors). Internally, we measure our client retention rate and engagement length as the key performance indicators.
Name two organizations or well-known business people you admire and explain why.
Raymond: I admire Warren Buffet for his tenacity and humility. The man is one of the wealthiest men in the world but is as humble and studious as ever. He never forgets his roots and embodies the belief that “There is no self-made man.” (Everyone had help along the way whether he/she wants to admit it or not.)
I also am in awe of the brilliance and vision displayed by the late Steve Jobs. While I cannot agree with his personal dealings, I cannot help but admire his untiring focus, relentless pursuit of perfection, and uncanny vision into the electronics future.
Chad: Brian Lee, Co-founder of LegalZoom (with Bob Shapiro), ShoeDazzle (with Kim Kardashian), and Honest (with Jessica Alba) is someone I came in contact with during my investment banking days. What I admire is that he is extraordinarily calm and casual in his approach yet is able to produce immense results.
Playing off of Raymond’s reference to Warren Buffett, I will go with Warren’s business partner, Charlie Munger. His ability to aggregate mental models and frameworks and apply them across a variety of contexts is something I really admire. I also appreciate that he has been content letting Warren Buffett live in the limelight while Charlie is an equal luminary in investing.
What’s the most critical piece of business management and leadership advice would you give your younger self?
Raymond: Hire the best people – folks who hold themselves to the highest standards, who are curious and thirsty for knowledge and growth, who take great pride in their work, who are proactive and accountable, and who aren’t afraid to own up to their mistakes and admit to their weaknesses. These amazing folks will help your organization grow by leaps and bounds and attract other A-players.
Chad: There is an important distinction between leadership and management. As a founder, you are a leader by default and can often lead simply by setting an example. As your organization scales, you must consciously cultivate a manager mindset and skillset as your ability to manage is likely the asymptote you must keep pushing higher for your business to grow. The particular deficiency that needs to be developed will vary from person to person but, as Raymond mentions, the meta-skill to remedy deficiencies if by being an exceptional recruiting and trainer of talent.
What has been the most impactful lesson you’ve learned as a business leader?
Raymond: I tell each of our team members that we wouldn’t ask them to do something we wouldn’t be willing to do ourselves. Deviate Labs started with Chad and me making cold calls ourselves, stuffing envelopes (as marketing and sales material to get leads and land clients), and doing all of the work ourselves. We are fortunate to have a capable team now, but we always remember our roots and do not believe that we are ever “too good” for any task.
It’s important for those that work with you and share your vision for the company to know that at any given point, you are right there in the trenches with them.
Chad: How to match the message to the medium. The more emotional the message, the richer the medium you ought to use. For example, if a client is having a conniption, it’s generally best to jump on a call as opposed to crushing through ten volleys of emails. Or, if a teammate has an admin question on a team call, we can side-bar over instant message rather than spend three minutes on a group call with five other attendees as that ends up being fifteen minutes of time-waste.
What is your vision for Deviate Labs?
The “Labs” in our company name, “Deviate Labs,” is in part a nod to Bill Gross’ Idealab which is based a few miles from where we founded Deviate Labs. Idealab, founded in 1996, is the longest running incubator and has incubated 45 companies that have gone on to IPO or acquisition. Whether by incubation, investment, or some other form of partnership, Deviate Labs’ vision is to help mold the future as a contributor to the next generation of enterprises.
About Deviate Labs
Deviate Labs is a growth marketing consulting agency headquartered in Los Angeles with offices in Seattle and Boise, founded by former aerospace engineer, Raymond Fong, and former investment banker, Chad Riddersen in 2014. We have worked with a wide range of companies ranging from bootstrapped startups to local businesses, to billion-dollar enterprises across every conceivable industry domestically and beyond. Some of our clients include venture-backed startups like Dollar Shave Club, a half dozen companies featured on ABC’s reality TV show Shark Tank, a multi-billion dollar Korean conglomerate, a world-renowned tattoo artist, an 120-year old retail chain, a world touring music artist, a stealth-mode startup founded by Googlers, an Amazon-backed toy company, among a wide variety of others.
Deviate Labs is known for creatively cross-pollinating marketing tactics across industries and swiping emerging growth tactics from small startups and deploying them across large enterprises. As an organization, Deviate Labs recognizes and appreciates the fact that every business is unique and we tailor our consulting engagements accordingly.
The two main flavors of service we offer are advisory and execution.
Advisory is recommended for companies that have trusted in-house capabilities such as their own marketing team and in-house creative team. On the advisory side, we provide the following services:
- Go-to-market strategies
- Product launch plans
- On-site growth marketing guidance and presentations
- Private growth hacking training sessions for teams
- Growth financing use-of-proceeds preparation
- Marketing allocation analyses
- Advertising tactic audits
- Growth marketing campaign designs
- Marketing organization chart optimizations
- Marketing mix reviews
- Investor fund-raising guidance
- And more…
Execution is more suitable for companies that either lack the in-house capabilities needed to pull off the proposed marketing plan in the agreed timeframe or simply don’t want to divert existing resources – instead, trusting and relying on Deviate Labs’ capable and experienced abilities. On the execution side, we provide the following services:
- Celebrity endorsements
- Influencer marketing
- Pay-per-click advertising (on a variety of platforms)
- On-site search engine optimization
- Off-site search engine optimization
- Email marketing
- Content marketing
- Display advertising
- Direct ad buys
- App store optimization
- A/B split testing
- Advertising analytics
- Grassroots digitally-focused PR
- Facebook advertising
- Social media strategy
- Conversion-focused design
- Search engine optimization
- Direct mail
- Sponsorship strategies
- Pre-roll video advertising
- Funnel creation and optimization
- And more…
Suffice to say, we are comfortable deploying an ever-widening variety of tactics to help companies achieve their growth goals. What our clients appreciate is that we are constantly evolving our approach, even after the engagement has commenced, to take advantage of growth-hacking moments in time and shape-shifting with the macroeconomic winds.
Undergirding all of our tactical execution is a widely-adopted growth hacking framework, the ASP™ Sales Flywheel, that was first introduced in the book, “Growth Hacking: Silicon Valley’s Best Kept Secret”, which was co-authored by Deviate Labs’ co-founders Raymond Fong and Chad Riddersen. Growth Hacking: Silicon Valley’s Best Kept Secret was published in 2017 (and is currently available on Amazon) and was also translated to Chinese and published by China Machine Press in China.
To learn more about Deviate Labs and see if we are a good fit to work together, contact us and apply.