Mexican born and now London living Olivia Zavala is Chief Brand Storyteller at language learning app Memrise (winner of Google’s app of the year 2017) and co-founder of Taqueria restaurant Homies On Donkeys. In this episode Brendon and Zoe chat to Olivia about relocating to the UK; her journey from a prolific content and teaching background into the brand and marketing profession and discover the challenges and lessons she’s learned growing a tech scale-up to more than double its size in the last 12 months.
Olivia talks passionately about the vital importance of a clear, shared vision and the power of listening to your users. Oh, and, perhaps most importantly: how to make the ultimate taco.
Olivia is fluent in two languages and is learning three more. Don’t worry, we feel like underachievers too.
Zoe Clark: Hello and welcome to Without Borders. I’m Zoe Clark. Today, we’re chatting to Mexican-born and now London-living Olivia Zavala, the chief brand storyteller from language learning app, Memrise.
Brendon Craigie: Hi and I’m Brendon Craigie. On this episode, Olivia’s gonna talk to us about all of the lessons she’s learned from marketing a scale up, the importance of listening to your users in order to build that into your future product development, and finally where in London you can get the very best taco.
Zoe Clark: … always think it’d be good to make travel plans for the year or what have you by just going around different world festivals and seeing the most amazing things.
Brendon Craigie: The thing with Spain is they have fiestas all the time. So there are constantly fireworks going off and you’re like, “What is it? What’s going on?”
Olivia Zavala: We kind of got that from being conquered by Spain so we have a lot of fiestas with lots of fireworks. Particularly, in small towns where there’s Catholicism still really strong. Each time the saint patron of that town, it’s their birthday or whatever, they have this big thing. Those kind of things I do miss about Mexico.
Brendon Craigie: Yeah.
Zoe Clark: Do you go back much?
Olivia Zavala: No. I was just saying that I haven’t been back since 2015. We’ll plan to go next year because we need to renew our visa next year so we need to get that out of the way and then we can plan. Because there’s no point in going one or two weeks. We’d have to stay a month. And then, what do we do with that cats, and planning all of those things.
Olivia Zavala: Should I put those on?
Brendon Craigie: Yeah, yeah, you should. Yeah, yeah.
Zoe Clark: You’ll get a different experience when you put those on. Let’s start with Memrise. Tell us a little bit about how it’s going. What’s keeping you busy at the moment?
Olivia Zavala: Memrise is in a very interesting phase of startup adolescence where we’re not fully a grown company. I think the term nowadays it’s scale up. We’ve grown from around 30 team members to 80. The recruitment this year has just been full speed in every single department. We went through our series B fundraising this year so it was mostly to do with being able to grow the team, and to take the product to the next level.
Olivia Zavala: But, as you wanna take the product to the next level we really wanted to make sure that it’s clear to everyone at Memrise what we are, what the vision is, why we’re doing what we’re doing so that we could all pull in the same direction. Which is why we embarked on this … it’s not a proper re-branding. It’s more of a refreshing of the brand project where we’re not really looking for a new color palette and a new logo. We really want a strategy and direction for the team. So that’s what kept me busy the whole year so far.
Zoe Clark: Absolutely. So in that sense, the rebrand is more about keeping everyone together rather than anything necessarily being wrong or needing changing. It’s more just about making sure everyone’s on the same page.
Olivia Zavala: Exactly. I was just discussing this with our CEO maybe an hour ago. We want this to have a single source of truth about the brand. We want that to come from the inside, and we want that to enable and empower everyone in the team to be bold because we need boldness and genius to take the company where we want it to be.
Brendon Craigie: Thinking about that, if you’re looking at the horizon where are you guys headed? What are you trying to achieve?
Olivia Zavala: That goes back to the root of why Memrise was created, which is this belief that every single one of us has the potential to be a genius. And then, pairing that with the idea that we should all be practicing things to enrich our experience of the world, and to go from being able to see one color to being able to differentiate all the different shades of that, and how that is a metaphor for language learning as well. So what we want is to be able to have a product and a brand that reflect that and that then people go, “Yes, that’s what I believe in as well, and this is why I’m picking up language learning, and this is why I’m doing it with Memrise.”
Brendon Craigie: Yeah.
Zoe Clark: And it’s obviously been quite a journey for you. You’ve been … maybe not from the word go, I’m not sure. But, certainly for a while right? You’ve seen real evolution. What have been some of the main challenges in achieving what you have?
Olivia Zavala: I think the main challenge is precisely who to translate that vision into a product and how you then take a very small team that’s easy to do at the beginning. You can be in touch with everyone and you all understand the same things. Then, growing the team, and finding the people that are going to believe all of that as well, and pull it forward. I think that’s a big challenge. So our recruitment process, how we structure that, has taken a long time because we just wanna be really sure that we’re bringing in not only the best people in terms of specialisms and skills, but also that it’s gonna be …
Brendon Craigie: The right cultural fit.
Olivia Zavala: The right cultural fit, exactly. That’s been a very popular phrase this year.
Brendon Craigie: Can you shed any light on that in terms of the recruitment process in terms of what have you learned works that means that you do get the people that you really want?
Olivia Zavala: I think we’re still learning. But, I think not rushing into filling positions because of urgency is key. I think we’re still working out the balance between being able to interview for a skillset, and interview for a culture fit, and making sure that it’s a beneficial journey both ways. Because even if at the end of it it’s a decision of we’re not bringing you onboard, that person … it’s still kind of a very good relationship with people overall.
Brendon Craigie: I love recruitment. For me, it’s …
Zoe Clark: You just like talking to people.
Brendon Craigie: True. But, it’s like that thing of trying to find the win-win so that you know that as a business that anyone you bring in is gonna be an asset. But, through the combination of the opportunity you can provide someone and what they bring, you know that it’s not just gonna be 1+1, but it’s gonna be 1+1 creates three for everyone. I think that’s what I find exciting.
Brendon Craigie: We’ve got this slightly quirky business model where we run a location agnostic team. So we don’t mind where people are based. We’re just trying to find the best people for our team. That idea of a location agnostic model appeals to different people, the sort of people that maybe don’t necessarily want to commute into a major city every single day. They have a personal reason why. Maybe they’ve got three cats they want to look after, or they’ve got children, or they have just a personal reason why they want to be able to work wherever they want. I think what we’ve found as a consequence is probably 9 out of 10 people are not right for Tyto. But, the 1 out of 10 that is right, they’re nailed on definite Tyto people. And you say a bit like you about not rushing.
Brendon Craigie: What we tend to do is when we find someone that is a nailed on [Tytician 00:07:44], or that we want to have on our team, we want to give them a job. So funnily enough, it’s sort of a bit of a reverse process where we find people that are totally right for us and then we sort of create the role rather than … I think sometimes you sort of create the role and then you try and find people. It can be quite difficult.
Olivia Zavala: Yeah, we’ve had some of that. Early days, it was mainly at hiring. This is how I actually came to Memrise. I found this super weird Craigslist ad. I was here visiting so I was just looking for odd things to do. I found this really weird ad saying, “Do you know more than one language? Would you like to get involved with a really interesting project? Come to this very dodgy area in East London.” [Vyner 00:08:28] Street is super hipster now, but back then it wasn’t. It was just a big warehouse. Okay, I have nothing to lose. I’ll go check it out. Inside was Ed. We had a chat and he was like, “Can you start tomorrow?”
Olivia Zavala: We had a lot of that at the beginning of Memrise whereas now we have a people team, and we have processes in place. But, we still have sometimes … very recently, we had someone turn up with their CV and just going, “Well, I’m just here to see if there’s something.” We brought him in as an intern and then we’re like, “We need to give this person a job.” He had already gotten a job offer somewhere else, but we’re like, “No, you need to stay here.” So he’s now a product analyst at Memrise.
Zoe Clark: Amazing.
Brendon Craigie: As the business has been growing, you’ve been building the brand, how does the relationship with users and customers inform your approach to marketing and communications around the service? How does that sort of work?
Olivia Zavala: We have a user research team that are constantly putting together projects to understand both user needs, but already how they’re using the product to see if the directions that we are taking are right for our product. And then, on the other side, because that’s more to do with user research from the product perspective. Then, this year with the rebrand project, we for the first time ever conducted research in more than one language, which was English.
Olivia Zavala: So we did a survey in nine different countries. UK, US are our biggest markets so we obviously went there. But, we went to Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, Japan, Russia, and China … probably missing someone in there. Germany, as well. Just to find out why people are learning languages. Why are they learning with an app rather than with a textbook, or going to school. And if they’re choosing an app, why are they choosing us over other ones? And now that they’ve chosen us, what their experience have been. So it’s that holistic understanding of where we are in the space of their lives.
Olivia Zavala: We then went into a second phase of actually talking to … running interviews with people in five different countries. That was really cool because the interviews were run by our in-house language specialists. So that became really cool way of getting buy-in from the whole team because they’re the ones interviewing our actual users, and connecting the … I’m putting together a course for you to learn French with I’m actually talking to you and understanding how you’re using that, and why you’re using that. That became really rich.
Olivia Zavala: What we’ve found is that we’re not far off from where we would really like to be. This idea of people learning a language because they do want to enrich their experience of life. Be it if it’s to be able to chat to your girlfriend’s family, or because you want to break the stereotype of being the American that doesn’t know any other language and you make a point of learning the language of the place where you’re gonna travel to. That’s something for me to do right before I get into bed because that’s for me to unwind, it’s an activity like that. So understanding the people’s lives and how we fit into their lives is … I think it’s really exciting.
Brendon Craigie: I think that’s so valuable and I think it’s something that maybe enough companies don’t do. I think what you said about actually speaking to people is quantifiably different than just asking them to complete some kind of survey.
Olivia Zavala: Definitely. And this is why Ed, our CEO, was super keen. Its like, “No. I want everyone down to developers interviewing people.” That doesn’t always work because maybe developers don’t like talking to people. But, we did open up the sessions so that all the interviews were via Google Meet so anyone could join and we had people from every single department come and sit down and kind of trying to think through and coming up with questions and things they wanted to understand more about our users.
Zoe Clark: That’s amazing. I know at Tyto we are huge fans of taking that research driven and insights driven approach, it’s something we do a lot. And we’re also building out our own content creation team and using those insights to drive the kind of content we’re trying to create whether that’s social, video, photographic, whatever it might be. And I know that’s a bit of a passion of yours, as well, that kind of content side of things. Did you do the same? Did you use that insights to-
Olivia Zavala: We’re starting to. How we started to create content and specifically for social, it was kind of an observe, test, and learn where we didn’t have a social presence at Memrise and I was like, okay, let’s start running Facebook. And I said, “Well what are other people doing?” Okay, so language related products and websites and whatnot are doing these things, let’s try to do that, and then we kind of found this little spark where it’s a mixture of funny stuff but with meaning, so it’s not just like a joke for a joke’s sake but it has a lot to do with all of those quirks about learning a language and how that opens up your mind to, wow, that’s super weird, I never thought that that word in that language is so similar to that language, it makes no sense. And down to kind of, you’re learning a language and you’re eavesdropping on people because you want to really try and understand. And so we kind of built our voice from there and the type of content we wanted to create came from that space.
Olivia Zavala: And that kind of grew from social into the first big content marketing effort that we had last year where those were kind of the two ways to check if that idea should be tested is, will it make people feel that they’re exploring the world through a language or does it speak about the weirdness of languages but how cool that weirdness is? If so, then let’s go ahead and make a video, let’s make a blog post, let’s make a piece of social and push it out. And we really did see a spark of attraction with people on that way.
Zoe Clark: Amazing. And out of interest, how did you handle that in multiple languages? I’m just thinking, given your business, you’re obviously tailored to people in all sorts of different countries, how does that work?
Olivia Zavala: That’s a beast we haven’t tackled yet. All of our content marketing and social media we’ve run in English-
Zoe Clark: Yeah, deliberately for now.
Olivia Zavala: So I could split my audience two ways. One is English speakers natively, so we have UK and US which are our biggest market, but also our biggest market are people that are learning English all over the world. So people are pretty happy to consume our content in English and they are very happy about sharing what that experience means for them in their own languages as well.
Zoe Clark: And again, unless you’d done that research and knew that, it would be very hard to make that decision confidently, so interesting.
Brendon Craigie: One of our philosophies around content is contribute not pollute. The world is full of garbage content and sometimes you feel like just ’cause you can do something people just do it, and how do you ensure that the content that you’re developing is sort of making a difference, is adding value, and is not just sort of spam?
Olivia Zavala: I think it’s thinking about the channel that you’re using. What is that ecosystem like? What are people actually sharing there? What you share on Facebook should never be the same you’re sharing on Snap because those are two completely different platforms with specific audiences, so it’s thinking what is going on there and how can we add value to that experience from a language learning perspective? So and Facebook become the easiest kind of platform to use and channel to understand and adapt our voice and our content to that because we wanted to share ability, right? So among our [inaudible 00:16:34] because I think that’s a different monster, but if we see that people are sharing the content, it means that it resonates with them and it’s adding something to their life and their day to day by showing their friends and their family, “Look at this. I relate to this, this is a reflection of my experience.” And sometimes for people it’s not easy for people to express that and I think by sharing our content it becomes a way to do that.
Brendon Craigie: Yeah. So that’s a good indicator of the quality of the content, relevant, yeah.
Olivia Zavala: Exactly, yeah.
Brendon Craigie: Just so we’ve got this concept of PR without borders, which one aspect of it is we’ve got a team of people spread across Europe and we’ve sort of tried to be internationally minded about how we think about things, we tried to bring different perspectives to a creative challenge so that we’re not all just sat in Shoreditch and thinking about things from a Shoreditch perspective ’cause that’s not London, it’s not UK, it’s not the world. When you’re developing content and things, how have you experienced the world in the sense that you’re obviously targeting consumers in different parts of the world, how different of people? In terms of content you’re developing, do you find that whether someone’s in Germany, Mexico, UK, are the same type of things making people laugh, are the same type of things … or are people very different in each of these different countries?
Olivia Zavala: I think it doesn’t matter where we are, I think we’re really not that different in essence and this is something that we’ve found through our research as well, in terms of what drives people to want to learn a language and what they dream to be able to do with that, it doesn’t vary massively from country to country. We had to really kind of zoom in to look at the data and find that, okay, in countries like Mexico, Brazil, and Turkey there is a slightly higher tendency for people to say that they want to learn a language for work or to travel abroad. So we could test producing content that is going to help them achieve that and see how that goes. But overall, they still want to learn for personal development, and so there’s a couple of markets that we’re sure we don’t fully understand their sense of humor and how to approach that.
Olivia Zavala: So we’re still working on a plan on how we are going to do that in the future. But because essentially we’re kind of all the same and we kind of, we have the same experiences and we kind of find the same challenges and blocks when learning a language, it then becomes easy to go, oh, it’s kind of rolling your R is going to be difficult for 90% of the population, therefore if we make a video about it that’s going to engage with a lot of people kind of thing.
Brendon Craigie: That’s cool, I like the R rolling thing, definitely I can identify that with the Spanish and well, my kids are much better at it than me.
Zoe Clark: How many languages do you speak out of interest?
Olivia Zavala: English, Spanish, English almost natively ’cause I grew up in Tijuana and I was prohibited from watching television in Spanish just to get it going. And then beginner French and I’m learning Japanese and Turkish.
Zoe Clark: Amazing.
Brendon Craigie: That’s cool. Zoe’s a Japanese speaker.
Olivia Zavala: Oh, you are?
Zoe Clark: A little bit, a little bit.
Olivia Zavala: The phrases that really quickly come to my mind, like (foreign language) which is an essential one-
Zoe Clark: Where is the toilet.
Olivia Zavala: Where is the toilet. And then (foreign language)-
Zoe Clark: Absolutely fundamental, yep, thanks for the food.
Olivia Zavala: Yep. And I have only been learning with Memrise, I have not taken lessons in either Turkish or Japanese. French I have in house because we have the option to take up language learning within Memrise not only with the app but to actually get tutors in to teach you so we have various groups going on. I briefly joined French but I have no time so it’s all with the app which is pretty cool.
Zoe Clark: Amazing. So how did you end up in the UK then, growing up in Tijuana?
Olivia Zavala: Well I was kind of in my early 20’s when a friend of mine introduced me to my then boyfriend, well he was obviously not my boyfriend then, now husband, in a party and he was about to come to the UK to live and we kind of just continued being in touch, I visited him, we started not dating, just having a relationship across the pond, so it just became a thing where he would visit me, I would visit him a couple of times a year and then one of those times I met Ed and he offered me some contract work so I went back to Mexico, did that from there. Then my boyfriend moved back to Mexico and we were thinking about opening up a restaurant there, and then Ben, our co-founder, started going “When are you coming back?” Well I don’t know, I don’t have any reason to go back now.
Olivia Zavala: So they basically offered to interview me for a full time job, came, did that, and moved six months after that.
Zoe Clark: Wow, okay.
Olivia Zavala: Pretty cool.
Zoe Clark: And you’re also running another business, as well, in the sidelines of Memrise, aren’t you?
Olivia Zavala: Yeah. Well we kind of never dropped the idea of setting up our own restaurant ’cause my husband used to be kind of big DJ in Mexico, he started this thing about Latin drum and bass and he’s kind of really good at that, but then he realized this is not something that is feasible to do for the rest of my life, and I love food, so we started talking about maybe setting up a food business. So before doing that, he managed a couple of places, one not far away from here in [Tuting 00:22:32]. One around Faringdon, and then obviously being no spring chickens, we were like working in a kitchen full time, it’s pretty heavy, might as well do it for yourself. And then he came up with a concept of a taqueria, just like a traditional Mexican taco stand where you just kind of go ask for tacos, you have them while standing up and you leave. We found a really cool little place in a market in [Wolthansta 00:22:58]. It was low risk enough for us to take on so we just said, okay, let’s do it, and we opened Homies on Donkeys last year in June.
Olivia Zavala: We kind of … it took us by surprise a little bit how popular it became so fast. We had kind of hung out in a café outside kind of surveying our people here, do they want tacos ’cause this looks like we might have to sell bacon babs as well ’cause-
Zoe Clark: Do they want tacos, little did you know.
Olivia Zavala: But it just so happened that the demographic was changing right when we took the decision so a lot of really young families from [Hagney 00:23:41] have migrated towards [Wolthamsto 00:23:43] and they’re like yes we want tacos and everyone just started recommending us, and we’ve built up a regular customer base from that.
Brendon Craigie: What did you learn from that process in terms of how do you build a successful restaurant like street food sort of enterprise, what has been the secrets to success?
Olivia Zavala: MVP’ing stuff, it’s something I got from Memrise, too, let’s just do the simple version first and see how we go from there, and also building it from stuff that you really believe in. So the thought of we love Mexican food and we love really funky music and hip-hop and kind of street culture and tacos are kind of street food, so we kind of built it on that premise and keeping our menu really simple and making the most out of ingredients that may not be Mexican, but we are, so we can make the most out of them and offer a product that is really honest. So what you get when you go to Homies on Donkeys is my husband who is kind of friendly and outspoken and, I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy who’s not a dad but who makes dad jokes exclusively.
Brendon Craigie: Yeah. I do a good line in dad jokes, I’ve always been pretty good at them, so.
Olivia Zavala: He does, he jokes around with you and he kind of brings out the sense of humor while he’s making your tacos and it’s such a tiny place that it would be kind of awkward if you just sat there and had your food in silence, so it’s this kind of really homey feeling of being there.
Brendon Craigie: And if you want to become a taco master, are there any one or two things that everyone can do that can make their tacos that little bit nicer?
Olivia Zavala: Eat a lot of tacos from different places so that you understand what are the nuances in flavor, what makes for a good taco and not, and then try to get really good ingredients. Don’t try to imitate Mexican food. I think that’s something that kind of ticks us off. Just try to make the most out of the ingredients that you have to get the flavors that are really Mexican.
Brendon Craigie: And what are the sort of killer flavors that you absolutely need to make sure are in that taco?
Olivia Zavala: Killer flavor is it has to be super fresh. There’s kind of basic ingredients of all Mexican cooking are corn, so don’t eat flour tortillas ’cause that’s for something else in Mexican cuisine but not tacos. So it has to be corn tortillas. The basic ingredients are always tomatoes, onions, coriander, and possibly lime depending on if you like it or not. But using those three and whatever chili you can get, just mix those up in different ways and you come up with really cool variations of how to flavor pork versus chicken versus a vegetarian taco.
Brendon Craigie: That is very valuable.
Zoe Clark: Heard it here, trademarked.
Olivia Zavala: Yeah, I mean there’s so many people doing Mexican food at the moment in London, it’s so popular. I mean, I go and try and I’m like, this doesn’t kind of meet my Mexican taste bud demands.
Brendon Craigie: So I know obviously the best place in London is Homies On Donkeys. If you were in central London, obviously you need to go to [Wolthamso 00:27:19], which is a great place to go to, but if you’re in sort of like central London and you had to recommend another Mexican restaurant, what would you recommend?
Olivia Zavala: To be honest I don’t know. Definitely don’t go to chains that do burritos ’cause the concept of a burrito here is an American one, it’s Tex-Mex. A burrito in Mexican is eaten mainly in Northern Mexico, not in central Mexico, and it’s basically a flour tortilla, definitely, but the ones that are handmade are totally different from the ones that you get here. They’re super buttery and nice. And it’s just one filling. So it can be meat or it can be the traditional refried beans with cheeses, so it comes out to be very small, so your mom would pack up three or four for your lunch, and the best ones are always sold out of a cooler box in the boot of a car somewhere.
Brendon Craigie: Sounds like we have to plan a team night out-
Zoe Clark: It’s got to be done.
Brendon Craigie: Or a team outing to [Wolthamsto 00:28:20].
Olivia Zavala: Yeah. Wherever you do choose to go, just make sure that they’re giving you corn tortillas, proper corn, and always avoid places where they serve tacos with those little stands ’cause that’s fake.
Zoe Clark: So does your husband work in this business full time … he does that full time as well, but you do this is as a help out on the side around your day job?
Olivia Zavala: Yeah so we open, it’s a Tuesday to Saturday week, sadly we have to close really early ’cause it’s inside a market and those are the market hours. So he’s there every day and I go on Saturdays which is our busiest day, so I’m there with him on Saturdays so it’s like a six day working week.
Zoe Clark: No, after you.
Brendon Craigie: I was going to say, so, having explored the culinary side of things, going back to the business, your sort of day job. What if you, in terms of taking the next step and you’re scaling up now. What have been sort of the biggest challenges for you in terms of supporting the business and its growth? What are the hardest things that you’re grappling with at the moment beyond like that fine tuning the story?
Olivia Zavala: I think a really big challenge is building marketing understanding within the company and what it can do for us. Because we never needed marketing, right? Up until a couple years ago, we had grown massively through word of mouth and organically, and then we got to a point, okay, now we need to start building up our marketing team, and it has been kind of an organic growth within that team, as well. So understanding how we need to structure that and how to build the understanding within the team that this is why we’re doing marketing and this is how we should do marketing. I think that’s a big challenge that we have at the moment. And at the same time, also, getting buy in from the whole team as to why we need to build a strong brand because often times, branding is thought of something that you chuck money at and then you don’t know if you got your return on investment in something.
Olivia Zavala: And making sure that kind of branding powers marketing and then we go out and field our next stage of growth with a really strong brand, and that obviously means a very strong product, they shouldn’t be separate. I think piecing all of that together is a challenge.
Brendon Craigie: I sort of think part of it is people don’t entirely understand what marketing is. So the fact that you’ve had this early momentum, wasn’t that you didn’t do marketing as such, it just would have been more boot-strappy, more relied on certain things than others, but it’s not that you weren’t doing marketing, it’s just that now you’re looking just to do it on a much bigger scale which isn’t so much about, yeah, you’re just trying to do it on a bigger scale.
Olivia Zavala: Exactly. And figuring out, so which markets are we going for and what works best there, so how should we approach marketing there? It’s an ongoing discussion, yeah.
Brendon Craigie: Yeah. And have you experimented that, in terms of getting buy in and taking people on that journey, what’s worked if anything so far?
Olivia Zavala: What has worked is being inclusive in the process of building the brand. Early on, we thought if we just come to the team with “Here is the new brand.” They’re gonna go “That makes no sense, I was doing something completely different over here.” So because we included as many people as we could in the whole research phase, we are now seeing a roadmap that includes the idea of our brand there, so it’s like these are the projects that we should pursue, and it’s a direct reflection of what we believe our brand is. So I think definitely being inclusive in the process has been very important.
Brendon Craigie: I think I’d sort of echo that, I think it needs to be an inside out process, I think sometimes in marketing and PR people sort of come up with concepts that they will then push out externally, but if you’ve started more organically at the beginning and you’ve gone on a journey as a company with people inside the organization and then it goes out, one you’ll probably end up with something that’s stronger and better, but you’ve also got all of this sort of team of evangelists behind you as well.
Olivia Zavala: Exactly. I mean, it’s in the air thing, kind of finding how you balance that how we perceive ourselves versus how people perceive us is just such a tough thing to do that bringing the day to day into our teams’ lives has been I think key in making sure that they believe in it and that once we go “Okay, so we’re finished let’s go with it.” They’ll be like “Yeah, of course, we created this together let’s just push it forward.”
Zoe Clark: And like you said, it is such an intangible thing, isn’t it. What are some of the key facets of it that enable you to communicate what it is to your team?
Olivia Zavala: So you mean in terms of outputs, what are we showing them?
Zoe Clark: Yeah like if you’re saying now you’re beginning to see the brand reflected in, say, the product roadmap or what have you. What elements make up a brand? Any brand or your brand? How have you been able to explain what your brand is to people who-
Olivia Zavala: We materialize the whole research and the kind of what we distilled from the research, we build our brand period. And we showed this to our team when it was a draft, when it was a second draft, when it was final, final version two, final version four. So they were all pretty familiar with it along the way.
Zoe Clark: What is that, a brand pyramid?
Olivia Zavala: So a brand pyramid is almost your set of beliefs. And you start with what is our essence as a brand, why do we even exist, and then okay, so if that’s why we exist, so what is our character and our personality? What are our values? What do we believe in? Because what we believe in should kind of shine through our essence. And then our values should manifest themselves through the way that we behave and the way that we speak and the way that we look and feel, so what’s our personality like? And how do we put that into words and communicate that to the outside world tying in all of our product attributes? So it’s like tying all of those intangible pieces into a format that is easy for people to understand and then kind of just putting it in front of people time and time again. And I think it was pretty cool to see how our App Store and Google Play Store manager, so she kind of experiments with our icons and our screenshots and our description, she very early on started tweaking the copy in the description.
Olivia Zavala: “Okay so it’s about this and now paid acquisition is doing that a little bit as well.” So without kind of having to go “This is how it is and you need to use it.” Because it felt like, right, so we all came up with this, we researched it, we put it into this pyramid. Yeah.
Brendon Craigie: So you’ve been involved in the company, I’m trying to think it’s about-
Olivia Zavala: Four years full time, yeah.
Brendon Craigie: So if you could go back to yourself four years ago and say “Right, here are a bunch of lessons, things to avoid or things to do more of.” If you could go back in time and pass on that wisdom that you’ve now accumulated, are there any things that you would say to your past self?
Olivia Zavala: I would have pushed our CEO and our COO to put together a marketing team earlier for sure. I think for me that’s kind of the biggest thing because I think that would have given us more lead time into building our understanding and powering up our growth more in advance. But if I went back 20 years to tell myself “You’re going to be in marketing.” I would have laughed at myself, so I don’t know if I would believe myself. Yeah.
Zoe Clark: And what would you tell yourself back in your education days in Mexico?
Olivia Zavala: Listen more, because I’m very stubborn and many times I kind of go with “No I need to do this.” And the outcome is not what I expected, so it’s just like sit back a little bit, listen more to the world around you and then make a decision. But I think that’s just part of being young though, go ahead and try to eat the world.
Zoe Clark: One taco at a time.
Olivia Zavala: Exactly.
Brendon Craigie: That’s a good expression.
Zoe Clark: Thank you. Well, listen, we’ve just got one more question we want to put to you which is a little bit related to our way of working, our location agnostic model and working a very flexible and agile way and we’re just, as you know, really not contained to any one desk area or any office or town or country even, so we’re just wondering where your desert island desk would be. If you could work anywhere or in any kind of setup, what does your desk space look like?
Olivia Zavala: Hawaii. Yeah. I used to have a blog many many moons ago and I remember writing that my life mission was going to be to live in a place where I could wear flip flops year round ’cause I love hot weather. So I don’t know how I ended up in London. No I do know. But I think hot weather really kind of gets me going in terms of creativity. Really nice skies. That’s something I miss from California a lot, the landscape is just so rich. And yeah, I don’t know, I think I’m just very weather driven in that sense, so I think that would be really good for my creative mind.
Zoe Clark: Yeah. Thank you.
Brendon Craigie: Excellent. Thank you so much.
Zoe Clark: Thank you so much for joining.
Olivia Zavala: Thank you for inviting me.
Zoe Clark: Thanks for listening to Without Borders. If you like what you’ve heard, why not subscribe? And if you want to find out more about Tyto and what we’re up to you can find us at tytopr.com. That’s T Y T O P R dot com.
Tyto brings you Without Borders, a regular dose of inspiration for passionate communicators, courageous creatives and entrepreneurial business brains. Expect candid chats with the wisest old hands, bleeding edge innovators and left field thinkers and doers.