“Can you send me a two-minute Loom video. Thanks, Bostjan”
Even for a self-proclaimed traveler and someone who had been to Slovenia, the name, to my shame, wasn’t an easy one to pronounce. Boss-Jan, Boss-Jun, or Bostiyan?
And wait, what’s LOOM now?
Two questions that came to my mind when I received that email from Bostjan just a little over a year ago. Little did I know that Bostjan and Loom would be the two constants of my life very soon, for a whole year and counting.
Hustler Marketing wasn’t my first choice for a job last year. In fact I’d originally applied to Stacked Marketer, the awesome daily marketing newsletter, and I was one of the top two contenders for the editor’s post, but unfortunately I didn’t make it. But Manu (bless him), wouldn’t just let all that effort I put in my application to waste, and referred me to Bostjan who happened to be looking for a marketing director at the time. An introduction was made and I was asked to make a Loom video introducing myself and why I was interested.
But the truth was, I wasn’t very interested. a) It was a B2B role b) It was an agency. Both were uncharted territories to me. Add to it, my snobby self who’d been ruined by the “brand tags” having worked at tech giants like Google, EY, Ola, and other biggies back home in India to consider an unknown (to me) marketing agency with no physical presence and a team full of people whose names I couldn’t even pronounce at first! Plus, I already had a very new job going at EY, the BIG4, which was a much “valuable” brand to have on the resume (I’m so over this line of thinking BTW)
But I sent that Loom to Bostjan anyway, and he immediately asked me to work on a case study as the next step. Turns out I’d never done a case study either. But I remember oddly enjoying doing it, and it helped that Bostjan offered to pay for my work on it, irrespective of the final outcome. In all of my 10 years of going through the rigmarole of job applications, some of them as arduous as Uber where I’d spent a whole week making a marketing plan for them only for it to come to nought to not even get a thank you, to now have a company pay me $100 for a case study which I did as a part of the application process. I knew this company was going to be different. Very different.
I decided to let EY go and take the biggest career risk of my career, after quitting Google.
And so I decided to let EY go and take the biggest career risk (after quitting Google.) and say yes to Hustler Marketing and boy am I glad! And so here I am. A whole year after I joined thanks to that one initial positive experience that set the ball rolling.
And this ball has never stopped rolling since.
I was no stranger to a remote work lifestyle having worked with a US ecommerce startup for 4 years just before the pandemic struck, but doing a remote job with a team of 60 people most of whom were younger and came from a different country was unusual for me. As a traveler and past MNC employee I wasn’t completely new to working with people from different nationalities either, but to be the only Indian in a company was new. (weren’t the 1 billion of us everywhere?!)
On a serious note, I knew that as a single member marketing team, I knew my work was cut out for me. Unsurprisingly, I had a long list of stuff to work on in my very first week, but I wasn’t complaining.
For 10 years, despite working with big ticket companies, I’d somewhat, even if I never admitted it to myself, struggled to find my niche, my place under the sun. What is it that I’m good at? I could do so many things –some well, some not so well, you know jack of all trades and all that– but big companies expected me to pick and get pigeonholed in one thing. Google got me entrenched into the backend of ad management, while Ola didn’t know what to do with me so I sometimes I edited the CEO’s tweets or just waited for something to fall on my plate, and at EY well, a little something died in me every time someone mentioned SCRUM yet another time. But I was someone who lived for the joy of creation. More than management or Powerpoint presentations, I enjoyed getting my hands dirty and experiment and do many things at once and see them all come together as a whole.
Hustler is where I realised I didn’t have to find a niche. All my skills that I always thought were all over the place finally fit like pieces of a puzzle. I undertook new projects harnessing some of my existing skills and learning some from scratch. One day I’d be writing a video script and next day I’d be deep down the rabbit hole of Klaviyo stats for a case study. I’d belt out thousands of words on a blog post and come up with a 200 character ad blurb all in equal measure. I’d invoke my rudimentary SEO skills from my time building OfficeChai, and also get a privilege to manage people without being their manager.
It’s only at Hustler I could claim to have an actual job repertoire which looks like this in a year:
105 social media posts
21 1000+ word articles
5 video scripts
4 case studies
2 white papers
1 website overhaul
Hundreds of emails to partners, Youtubers, podcasters, other companies, publishers and what have you.
And at least a single exchange with pretty much every member of the company!
But these are just some numbers for my own validation, what I’ve taken back from the company in this last one year is just a heart full of gratitude, heartening moments from all the meetings, huddles and monthly calls, and non-stop inspiration, from across all departments and levels.
And what can I say about what I learnt? I don’t know if this can be attributed to the “recency bias” or Hustler is where I might have arguably learnt the most. And this post is largely going to be about that.
I learnt how you can get good work done if you have a high-functioning team and a manager who empowers and supports your vision. So on one hand I could get so much done because of Bostjan’s go-aheads and sometimes even childlike enthusiasm about my initiatives that sometimes I myself wasn’t super pumped about. On the other hand, all of it could be executed smoothly because I worked with driven and talented colleagues. I could churn out so much content and so quickly because I worked with kickass designers who would work on my ideas and turn them into reality at lightning speed. (Yesica, you’re my bullet train!) I could get a lot of case studies and other reports done because the concerned account manager or assistant would produce the required data within hours or a couple of days. Truly, Hustler Marketing is a lean mean well-oiled machine.
Trust me, it’s intoxicating to work at a place where people are constantly delivering.
Here I learnt how efficiencies can be achieved if you have the right systems, tools, processes and people to manage them all but you’re not anal about them. Yes most companies have them, but at HM, I learnt to use them to my advantage, not to bog me down. (Here’s looking at you, JIRA!)
I learnt to use Slack, AirTable, Figma and of course Loom! I found that Slack is the perfect communication medium, and how one-hour meetings can actually be productive, not just a ruse for setting up a follow-up meeting and how one-page Google docs can do the job much better than fancy presentations with charts can. That HR teams can actually care about people beyond managing their payslips.
I learnt how you don’t have to meet everyday to have fun at work. You can just post and react to memes on a Slack channel and laugh to your heart’s content or even singing a birthday song on a monthly team meeting and botching it up somehow can be equally if not more bonding than team lunches at a big table. (Heck! We have “custom emojis” for some wonderful people and it never fails to crack me up. Hey Demetris!)
I learnt how you can enjoy the professionalism and the systems of a big company without any of the hierarchies, red tape and analysis paralysis of one, and have the freedom and ownership of a small company without any of the chaotic and vague systems and “too casual” culture of one.
I learnt from Bostjan and others, the art of time management, structure, organization and generosity. It is inspiring to come to the management huddle every Monday and see Bostjan transform from the weekend party-goer into this super focussed, structured, no-nonsense CEO with a pre-set agenda, all of which would get covered by the end of the hour.
Imagine my surprise, when after all of 5 months into the company, Bostjan announced on a monthly call that everyone – irrespective of level or tenure would be getting a “13th salary” or a holiday bonus because the company performed well, instead of well buying himself a Merc – A magnanimous gesture by any standards given that HM isn’t a public company.
But bigger and monetary gestures isn’t all. Bostjan set an example of how empathy goes a long way. There have been many a time where I cancelled a 1:1 at the last minute to focus on personal issues. He never complained, but rather asked me to take care and reschedule any time.
There were times I messed up, but I wasn’t given a ‘strike’, instead I was offered a patient ear to listen to my side of the story and a plan on “how do we fix things”. The keyword being “we”. Not just me, I noticed this empathy being channeled when it came to dealing with other issues and people too. When an employee that I was managing had to be let go, he was given more than a fair compensation, and a second chance when he was financially hard up much later. Not that we lose many clients given the company’s stellar track record with client retention, but every time a client came on the verge of it, Bostjan was never bitter or sore about it. “Hey, give them a discount if we didn’t do a good job”; “it’s alright! We’re doing great!” instead of admonishing the person who may have slipped up. And there were even little things like once I got a colleague’s name’s pronunciation wrong, and Bostjan made sure to correct it on our 1:1 because he felt like that person deserved that courtesy.
And Bostjan’s own work and leadership style and his empathy has inspired the same culture across the company. On my birthday (like for everyone else) a custom-designed banner was posted on the common channel. Today for my one-year anniversary, I’ve already received a giant coffee table book on “Home Decor” at my doorstep because I’d once mentioned in passing that I was into home decor. I don’t remember a single other company which did something so personalised (Except Google with its giant number balloons hanging over your desk!) on a birthday or even an anniversary. And I’ve been through a lot of birthdays and work anniversaries.
I learnt that a culture built around appreciation, team spirit and working together towards a common goal can actually work wonders. Here people actually come together to help and hype each other up, take a busy colleague’s workload or re-assign the latter’s work in case of an emergency. Well-noticed shoutouts for colleagues as well as from our clients come thick and fast on our dedicated Slack channels.
By any stretch, Hustler Marketing isn’t a Fortune500 or a snazzy startup with a fancy office to boast of millions in funding, and yet, what Hustler has very few companies can stake a claim to have. A soul. Everything here is done with a heart. Many startups claim to be “open”, “people oriented” and “you can walk into the CEO’s office anytime”, but the reality often is different. But at Hustler, all those tropes are actually true. And this very culture and way of working translates into Hustler’s performance as a company. That’s why it – despite being remote and the average age being like 25 – means business. It has grown multi hundred times in just 3 years – from a few freelance projects to now 60 7-and-8-figure clients, and 60 very happy and motivated people. Very few companies can scale like that, be not only self-funded but also be profitable! And yet, the stats don’t do justice, you have to experience it for yourself.
In a year that was largely ravaged by Covid19 (more like covid19-21), Hustler came in as the perfect antidote to all that the pandemic wrecked. On a personal level, it took me closer to my dream of owning a lake house, and on some level, it satisfied the traveler in me as I talked and worked with people from over 27 countries day in and out (watch this video for a glimpse of all our team in their own countries) without ever leaving my house! I’ve learnt more and got more done here in a year than in double the time in most other companies, and after long, I’ve truly looked up to and liked a leader. For once, work hasn’t left me living only for the weekends, but rather optimised the perfect work life balance where I can do meaningful work any day and any number of hours, while also having enough time to have a life outside of the laptop. (And trust me, as a single woman with two old dogs and a house to take care of, that’s been a big blessing!)
This is not to say it’s all been rosy. Working at Hustler Marketing is challenging. Yes it’s remote, but sometimes that can be alienating and you can miss out on all the “cubicle action”, or catching some after-hours drinks. Yes the hours required are shorter, but every minute is accounted for so you end up doing more work per time unit available, (and argh, sometimes I forget to switch on the damn Hubstaff!) I teeter close to a burnout often but self-correct, and yes every now and then the impostor syndrome still hits me hard. Am I doing okay? Do I belong here? Do I bring a value to the table worthy of my role? But you know what, every time that happens, it’s a message like the one I just read on my Anniversary wish on the Slack channel that put paid to all my fears and concerns, and I’m back to being a happy camper, knowing this is my place, these are my people, this is my favourite Hustle.
A year ago, I took a bet on Hustler Marketing. And I’m raking up the table baby.