My Journey Thus Far

GM friends and frenemies,

This newsie comes to you from sunny Santa Monica. I'm here for 24 hours for a Yotpo event we are hosting.

As this newsletter's audience continues to grow at a wild rate, I've been doing a lot of mid-life crisis thinking about how it has grown and evolved.

There are certainly a handful of "industry newsletters" that will give you the tips and playbooks you need for x, y, and z.

My newsletter stands out (for better or for worse) because it is unapologetically me.

My stream of consciousness. 
My evolution in this crazy industry. 
My journey of personal growth.

And the inevitable hot takes that come along with it.

It’s been 90+ weeks since I've even shared how I got here, and most of y’all were not subscribed back then (the audacity?!).

In this week's newsie, instead of an autobiography, I will share my journey thus far and sprinkle in some very strong opinions (maybe) loosely held.

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From the Beginning:

I grew up in New Jersey, number two in a family of ten children. Most in my world end up working in their uncle's kitchen business, their cousin's mortgage office, or becoming an LNHA if they are adventurous.

I had no high school education or college degree. As a curious teenager, I learned about the world on Reddit.

I was intrigued by human behavior, but I was, and still am, most definitely an introvert. I loved reading books like “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie and “Influence” by Robert Cialdini.

I was enamored by the similarities all of us humans have. We like feeling cared for, heard, and understood.

I was (and still am) a difficult customer. When I spend my hard-earned money on something, I get incredibly frustrated when I have an issue and get a canned response from the other side of the world.

I think I can say that bad customer service has always been a pet peeve of mine.

I never thought it would be something I’d do for a living.

At 18, I moved to NYC to go to a Talmudical Academy. While most were studying, I was learning about the world of points and miles. People traveling the world for free with credit card points sounded absurd, but nevertheless, it was something I needed to get in on.

In 2013, I walked into a Chase Bank in Washington Heights and asked the branch manager if he could teach me everything I needed to know. His response: “That’s pretty weird, but sure.”

Fast forward one year, and I had 1.2 million credit card miles. I was off to the races.

I went to visit friends in Israel and got stuck there in 2014. When most kids my age were in college, I traveled the world with points and miles. First-class flights and luxury hotels, all with less than $500 to my name.

Getting a Real Job:

When I returned to Israel in 2016, I was in my 20s with no high school or college education, no work experience, and no clue what I wanted to do for a living.

But hey, I guess I had life experience.

Here was my plan: Startups value grit and merit vs. solely a resume, and Israel had a first-rate startup scene. However, they did not have too many English-speaking employees. That was going to be my way in.

I found a Kickstarter luggage brand that was looking to hire for a Customer Service role through a friend of a friend. I leveraged a connection to get past HR and secure an interview.

It was Wednesday evening, and I was told to come in the next morning. I hopped onto LinkedIn and learned that every person on the team was educated and experienced. I had nothing.

I decided I was going to go all in. Come out swinging.

I spent the next 8 hours reviewing Kickstarter comments, Google reviews, Reddit reviews, etc. I combed the internet for everything negative I could find out about this brand. There was quite a bit. 🙃

They had launched in 2014 and spent all the Kickstarter funds on R&D, and the product was delayed big time.

They were raising money from institutional VCs to get to the finish line with a plan to bring it to the mass market after that. The kicker? They had been telling customers that the product “is on the way” for over a year, and all 1,500 customers in 64 countries wanted a refund.

This was the mess I was walking into. With no experience. Oh, and here was the luggage 👇

I assembled a deck filled with customer insights and a big old dose of audacity. I figured he’d appreciate the chutzpah. I put my favorite slide below. Take a gander.

Reading through the deck, I saw his face go from curiosity to confusion to sheer horror.

What came next was unexpected. “When can you start?” he asked. “I’ll see you on Monday,” I replied. “Deal,” he said.

I was in. But now what?

So here was my day one hypothesis, with zero professional experience: All customers want to be heard, validated, and properly updated, but even more so with Kickstarter customers. Kickstarter customers back an idea from the start and want to be treated like cofounders.

They don’t expect the product immediately, but they expect frequent and authentic updates. The idea: if we can be overly transparent and explain what really was going on, we can apologize and rally the backers to the finish line. With few other options, luggage company management was in on my idea.

We did a FB live and a Kickstarter update with the CEO explaining the story and where we were at truthfully. We apologized for all the misleading updates. We begged them to hang with us for a few months so we could bring the product to market.

After completing that project successfully, we launched a V2 based on these customers' feedback, and 90% of the folks from the first project hopped in. I was truly flabbergasted at how simple this felt. I was over the moon.

I spent the next four years doing everything at that brand. I owned the ops and logistics process (4 warehouses to ship to 64 countries), launched the brand on Amazon, ran ads, email marketing (Mailchimp), website management (WordPress and Woocommerce), trade shows, and, of course, customer support.

I was baffled that this simple and easy customer-focused approach to a crisis transformed the company.

The CX and Retention Universe: 

When I looked at the startup scene in 2016, I was fascinated that Zappos and Chewy were famous for being super customer-centric, yet everyone else had their face up to the Facebook ads dashboard.

While Zappos and Chewy pioneered leveraging CX as a brand-building channel and hired in-house reps stateside to send personalized cards and talk on the phone for hours, everyone else outsourced support for $6 an hour and dug deeper into growth.

Hell yeah, 2016 was a wild time for growth guys and gals. Media buying was efficient, and businesses were built on the arbitrage of FB ads.

As it turned out, however, building a business on borrowed ground was like building on quicksand.

As Facebook started turning the dial, brands flocked to Snap, Youtube, and eventually TikTok, yet so few were focused on the hard thing—building a brand.

I’d look at businesses growing incredibly quickly, belatedly noticing a leaking bucket, and then hiring “retention” people rapidly.

The ridiculous thing about these typical Retention folks was that they were just spamming customers who had already left instead of working on keeping them happy when they first expressed frustration.

Most of them were glorified email marketers who knew the backend of Mailchimp or Klaviyo like the back of their hand but were just bullied by a C-suite executive to hit unrealistic goals, which led to spam, spam, and more spam.

They sat so far away from customer support or experience teams that they truly had no idea what problems customers had or what jobs needed to be done with their products, but a discount was a sure way to drum up revenue.

This is how the email marketing strategy in the early 2000s evolved. Take a look at Wayfair and some others. Crazy emojis, incessant messaging.

Eventually, the right message hits the right customer, and you hit your goals. And that messes up channels for marketers and customers around the world. 🫠 

The wildest part is that most brands have much more data than they use and can get to the right message by leveraging that data.

But that’s a story (and rant) for another time.

Customer Service to Customer Experience:

In 2016, Customer Support was at the bottom of the barrel, both pay-wise and importance-wise. I made $33,500 (!) in my first role. Most Customer Support folks were getting about the same and were given an old laptop to use as a fire extinguisher when customers howled, “WHERE IS MY SH!T.”

I looked across the aisle at the SaaS world, and they were hiring Customer Success Managers for $100k+ to do what I felt great Customer Support people should be doing—proactively ensuring customers are getting what was promised before they bring up any issues.

I felt strongly that the CPG world would get there eventually. Yes, average contract value is much higher on SaaS, but one great CX associate can spread so much wider than a CSM and create a meaningful increase in LTV by focusing holistically across the journey.

But first, Facebook had to squeeze ad buyers a bit more, and iOS 14.5 had to happen.

In the four years I was at the luggage brand, I’d spend hours a day on DTC Twitter, scrolling through and learning about all things growth and acquisition.

All the hacks. All the tricks.

I remember watching Bonobos thrive as a digitally native brand with a staunch focus on CX. I remember reading “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh and thinking about the possibilities in a world where CX is used to build a brand.

I remember taking out a napkin after lunch one day and jotting down the difference between Customer Service and Customer Experience:

  • Customer Service: Reactive, a problem solver, a cost center.

  • Customer Experience: Proactive, an evangelist creator, a brand builder.

This stuck with me. In a sea of career possibilities, I decided I would do whatever it took to make the convergence of CX and Retention my mission. It was my passion, and I would figure out how to make it work.

Then came 2020. Covid took the world by storm, and luggage was the last thing people were thinking about. The luggage company was shutting down, and I needed a job.

All my experience would definitely get me somewhere, right? RIGHT?

No. Hahaha. Nope.

I spent weeks applying to 85 roles and heard nothing back. I took a step back and started applying to CX associate roles. HR folks still hated me because I had no “cool” startups on my resume, nor did I have a college degree. 

I needed to get in front of hiring managers and leaders. Twitter helped me do that. I landed a role at NUGGS (Simulate) and was excited to hop in.

From there, I landed at OLIPOP, a paradise for someone like me. I had these unique ideas about surprise and delight, how to build and motivate teams, how to collect and pass along feedback properly, and how CX can be the voice of the customer in all conversations.

I’ve learned so damn much in my time at OLIPOP that I brought along to my role leading CX and Retention at Jones Road and all the consulting I have done alongside that, but most of all, I learned about myself.

I learned to trust myself to do things differently, to wear my heart on my sleeve, and that putting the customer first makes financial sense.

Then I had a quarter-life crisis and connected with Tomer, CEO of Yotpo, and learned they were building everything I dreamed of as a Retention Marketer. 

I threw it all out to take on the biggest challenge of my career, but that’s a whole different story and one that will definitely be shared over some tea. 



That’s it for this week!

Any topics you'd like to see me cover in the future?

Just shoot me a DM or an email!


Eli 💛