Office Hours: I was NerdWallet's founding VP of marketing. I'm Stephanie Wei.Featured

Hi everyone!

I’m Stephanie Wei. I was the founding VP of Marketing at NerdWallet.  I joined NerdWallet as an early employee as the General Manager for the banking vertical, and from there built NerdWallet's organic marketing, content, and SEO strategy, which is the foundation for the Company's early success.  As the company's founding marketing executive, I built the function from scratch, hiring many talented marketers and setting up the company to scale.

I can speak to building a team and function from first-principles (I had no previous marketing/tech experience before), how to build a world-class content and organic marketing function, being a first-time executive, learning and growing when you feel underwater, and many more topics.

I’m an advisor to startups including Forage, Coral, and Honeybee Health.

Ask me anything!

Thanks so much for joining us @stephaniewei!Elphas – please ask @stephaniewei your questions before Friday, October 8th. @stephaniewei may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
@stephaniewei Thank you for being here. What would be your best advice to attract women to learn to code? What do you think deters them? Are they just not interested? How should I attract them to be interested? My team say use photos of women at desks coding, and me I want to focus on the togetherness and have photos of women collaborating. But they say that it doesn’t depict coding and it could be Ecommerce …because I think a pain point is women imagine this learning to be a lonely process, when instead I created a program of grouping women together in online study groups so it’s social. When should you use images that are explicit and when to use images that are aspirational?
I work at a corporate wellness start-up and now have several years experience in corporate well-being. Many new start-ups in this space are reaching out to me to become a board advisor and an investor. Of course, I'm really interested in this role as an advisor and investor in early stage start-ups. @stephaniewei How do you decide what companies to advise/consult for - what do you look at about the company before making that decision? Also, if I'm looking for more opportunities to do this, what resources, platforms, networking/community groups etc. do you recommend to start becoming more involved? Thanks!
Hi Andrea - First, congrats on all the inbound!I'm relatively new at advising, so I'm still iterating on my own method of filtering and prioritizing :-). My general approach has been: (1) High level: Do I like and believe in the Company's mission and vision? (2) Business "due diligence" - How sound is their business model/unit economics? Do I think they will be able to execute and win?; all of which is weighted against: (3) Do I believe what I have to offer (in my case, my "super power" is content/organic marketing) is an actual driving force for the business?; and 4) Do I like the CEO/founders and can I see myself working with them for 1-3 years? It's difficult to gauge #2, 3, 4 from short convos, so I usually like to start with a consulting project to get more information. As for resources and ways to find more opportunities, I found meeting VC's to be most helpful, as most are eager to help their portfolio companies. Similarly, former coworkers are also a great resource - many of the companies I talk to have been referred to by people I used to work with. Once you tell people you're looking to advise, you will start getting more inquiries.
Hello @stephaniewei, thanks for offering up your thoughts! I'm the Head of Marketing at Bench Accounting, and I'd love your thoughts on building an industry leading content team. - Where did you start, what were the first few roles you hired for? - Did your team handled everything from content creation, distribution and optimization/technical SEO? Or were there roles that you outsourced?- Was your growth mostly coming from one channel you consistently invested in, or diversification?- Any insights on internal systems or processes you have put in place for content ideation and research?Thanks Stephanie!Eva
Hi Eva- At the start, I hired a pod consisting of 2 data analyst/writers, 1 PR/outreach so we could do experiments each week and understand what was working and what wasn't. Once we were able to identify some "playbooks" we then scaled the team. I did want to clarify that I led the marketing team (which consisted of some content marketers) and not the content team (a separate team of writers, editors, former journalists). In any case, we always start with the goal and what metric we want to hit, and that often informs the team structure as it informs the type of work that needs to be done. - My team handled everything internally, although in the early phases we didn't do much optimization/technical SEO. In general, I find that it's best to keep in-house functions where you are building internal knowledge quickly and where you're creating "IP". - Channels varied by stage of the company. I believe there's usually just 1-2 key channels where you have channel-market fit, and it's important to identify those early on. There's a whole lifecycle to winning within one channel too, as you know! The work never ends :-)- At the most simplistic level, it's important to understand what other competitors are doing, and figuring out where your company can offer something better or unique. It's difficult to prescribe internal system or processes without knowing more about your industry and customers, though!
Thank you Stephanie, Really appreciate your response and thoughts here.
Thanks so much for joining Elpha for Office Hours Stephanie! How did you end up leading marketing with no marketing experience? Was this where you wanted to focus, and being on the founding team, you ran with it? Without the experience, where did you pull resources and advice from?
Hi Briana -In short, the CEO asked me to, so I ran with it. :-)Without previous marketing experience, I relied on the marketing/tech community in the Bay Area at first. People were so generous with their time and mentorship, the valley (/valley mindset) is an incredible place. My general approach was to identify experts in their function (for example: market research, brand marketing, etc) and companies that had amazing growth stories, reach out for a meeting, and then ask them to help me understand their function or how they did it. Getting this baseline understanding helped me understand a specific marketing function, what good looks like, and how to source top candidates. After I started hiring marketing experts, I learned a lot from them, and together with the business context and knowledge I had about NerdWallet, our team started to take shape. I answered pretty similar questions above, you can find more detail there.
Hi Stephanie! Do you believe SEO and organic marketing should be the foundation of any online brand's marketing strategy? Or do you think the payoff of investing heavily in developing the content to support those organic efforts depends on the brand/industry? Thanks for your time on Elpha!
Hi LaurelI am biased, of course, but I believe organic marketing/SEO is a great foundation for any company - at least in the pro-user, high authenticity, we're doing this not just to monetize sense. The extent of the investment and effort will be determined by the space and the product/offering of the Company though. For some categories, search engine queries may not even be developed yet to describe the offering because the space is too new, and in others, the search volume will just be too low, or the intent will be too low. It really just depends on whether the company has channel-market fit with search.
Hey Stephanie, thanks for the office hours! I'd love to know if you found a good way to break silos between the marketing team and all other functions? Is there a good way to unlock the insights and data flow between the teams?
Hi Helena - it's hard to comment without knowing more details. Are the silos stemming from an organizational structure issue? Is it communication? Is it because teams are working together for the first time? Is it a technology / tool issue? Does the Company have the right forums to communicate?
If you could reimagine personal finance without any barriers what is the one thing you would like to see all people to experience?
This is a challenging question because there are so many problems with personal finance. Beyond universal financial literacy, one thing that I would like to see all people experience is participation in the ownership economy. Most of us trade our time for money, but it is difficult to build meaningful savings or wealth without ownership, whether that's a part of a business or real estate or even just public equities beyond a 401K.
Thanks so much for joining Elpha for Office Hours Stephanie! As someone who is switching career paths into marketing do you have any advice? To be honest its a little scary and I feel like I am always caught up in all my rejections from companies even with internship experience. How did you end up leading marketing with no marketing experience? Do you have any advice for us who are in a similar boat and want to join this field but are feeling lost and unsure of their decisions?
Hi Mirah - thanks for your candidness and vulnerability. Rejection is a common experience that most of us have faced, so you are not alone. It seems that people end up in marketing either because they started in a specific channel or function and worked their way up, or they went to a quickly growing/evolving company and stretched into the role (which is the case for me). The latter happens more when the company is growing quickly (typically at the early stages) and they're willing to give people without demonstrated experience an opportunity to grow into the role. When you're just getting started, I would focus on picking a good company and trying to assess whether you will have a great manager who is willing to train and mentor you in a hands-on way. I lucked out with my managers, I learned so much from each of them in concrete ways, and felt supported to take risks. Marketing is such a broad discipline, ranging from brand to performance marketing and everything in between, it may take some time to figure out where you will specialize in. I think it's important to optimize for a job that gives you as many learning opportunities as possible, so that you can figure out what you're good at and what you enjoy.
Thank you so much for this valuable feedback Stephanie! I really appreciate you taking your time to help me out! (:
Hey @stephaniewei! Could you talk a little about how you formed your SEO / organic strategy for NerdWallet?With so many paid search results out there on Google ... it seems so intimidating! For context: I'm building a company called Wildgrid that is a marketplace to find trusted solar providers & plans near you. Similar to NerdWallet, we want to be a third party, trusted voice for people to come get educated about solar, the process, and then choose a plan from a partner we vetted. Appreciate any insights, thanks for doing this.- Krystal
Hi Krystal - At the highest level, the best way to win organic is to truly have the best offering/content for whatever topic you're tackling. The content has to be higher quality, differentiated, offer a value added perspective. The good news is that many competitor websites already ranking will likely be a mix of different companies with different interests and motivations - most of the time not in the primary benefit of the user. Some may be publishers who care about ad revenue (and thus clicks, page views), others may be legacy players with outdated UI, still others might be influencers who only care about selling their individual services. Almost most things will be more generic than specific. As a result, there is usually an opportunity to stand out and build something better for the user. At more tactical levels, I like to start with keyword research, and looking at the volume across your funnel. Perhaps you'll find there are 1000 searches for "solar panels" but 50,000 searches for "best solar panels". Keyword research gives you an understanding of the existing demand, and what nomenclature people are using in your space. It helps to guide your focus. From the keyword research, you'll be able to see who is ranking for the keywords you care about, analyze their content, and see what could be better. While there are indeed a lot of paid ads, most users are still savvy enough to distinguish between organic and paid.
Love NerdWallet! What advice would you give to a marketing first hire? I’m considering a role and would appreciate your insight.
Hi Amy -I have a detailed answer somewhere in one of these questions already, but I would say it's so important to assess whether the company is truly "ready" for and willing to fund the marketing organization. There are ways to proxy this: Can the leadership team clearly articulate the goal they need you to achieve, and is it at a level of granularity that it can be actionable? How much budget ($ and headcount) have they allotted for the function? What is your realistic assessment on how big of a driver marketing can be for the business? In some industries, marketing is the key driver; in others, it's secondary or minor. When you join the organization, try to get a feel on how key stakeholders feel about marketing and what preconceived notions they have. This will inform the level of communication you will have to do to align everyone. As you know, everyone is a marketing expert :-)
So appreciate your wisdom and detail in these answers. Genuinely helpful!
Hi Stephanie - I've been working as a full time marketer and want to make the transition to becoming an advisor / consultant. How did you prove your value to startups as an advisor and start to find opportunities? What did your initial engagement look like with these start ups to determine on both sides if it was a good fit?
Hi Julia -I usually start with proposing a consulting project if it makes sense (discrete project, concrete outcomes/findings, time-bound), and if we determine there's a fit for a longer term engagement, move more into an advisory role. I find the discrete projects help bridge the asymmetry of information. When I'm doing them, I'm assessing: (1) Is the work interesting and am I adding value; (2) Do I like the team; (3) Will I be able to add value over a longer period of time, or is this more one-and-done? The initial engagements have ranged all over the place because I tend to work with earlier stage start-up's. I usually listen to the CEO and see if the problems they're describing can be translated into a workstream and resourced properly to succeed. Usually, a diagnostic / analysis of what's going on is a good way to start because you can work largely in isolation and won't need to pull internal resources. I would figure out a few things that you think that you're exceptional at, and see how to structure that into a discrete work product / engagement. Lastly, having an abundance mindset, an attitude of being picky (you're trying to find something YOU want), rather than coming from a place of need (I "need" to find projects) goes a long way, as there is nothing more valuable than your time and energy :-)
Super helpful! Thank you, Stephanie. One more question - what resources / support groups did you find were helpful when getting into consulting work? The benefit of working full time with a team is that you have people to bounce ideas off of, but my assumption is that when you go solo, you will want people around you to "jam" with outside of the client. Any recommendations on marketing-focused support?
I haven't really participated in any groups, but it may be because I started consulting during the pandemic. I found reaching out to my network to be immensely helpful - people I used to work with, other marketers I met over the years, and even friends to ask the "stupid questions" to.
thank you!
What are the main pain points for a VP of Marketing of a mobile focused company (like NerdWallet)?I’m sure you get inundated with cold emails from people trying to sell you something. What gets your attention? What’s something that would cause you to open/respond rather than immediately move to trash?
Did you join NerdWallet before or after they had revenue, and what metrics did you use to define marketing "success" at the time that you joined? You mention being the "founding marketing executive," and as a founder I'm curious when it's appropriate to bring on a marketing person.
When to bring on a marketing person depends on what the business goal is (the more specific, the better), and whether marketing can directly impact that.  Other key considerations include: - whether the company is resourced to support the function, since it will likely require more headcount and more budget to just get it off the ground; - how far along the product and user experience is (there needs to be a good enough core experience/product);- whether the unit economics make sense (if you're doing media buying/ paid ads); - whether there is buy-in and support from other functions and leaders at the company.  Marketing is a noisy function - everyone has an opinion about it, what works, if the company even "needs" it. In the valley, where growth is traditionally "driven by product", it can be challenging for a new marketing hire whose boss hasn't achieved the alignment before they join. One of the things I think CEOs, founders, and executives can do to set up marketing for success is really defining the goals as granularly as possible, and thinking through how that goal translates across the funnel.  Often times, people will say they want "growth", but does that mean traffic? email capture? active users? paid-users? Is the goal actually something that marketing can be held responsible for?  What if the marketing drives qualified traffic but because the product isn't converting, users attrit?  Another thing for start-up's in the earlier phase to consider is what are the 1-2 key channels where the Company might have channel-market fit.  This will heavily influence the type of marketer you hire.  If you don't have an idea of what those channels are, the profile of who you hire would lean more towards someone who can test and iterate their way to an answer, rather than someone who has deep channel expertise. I joined NerdWallet after they had revenue (very little), and the Company's primary goals at the time were to build tools that genuinely helped users and to build the SEO engine.  It wasn't until we achieved the latter that we were able to embark on traditional marketing activities like defining our brand positioning, paid growth, brand campaigns, etc.  For different marketing sub-functions at different phases of the company, the metrics would change accordingly to what was most important for the overall business.