Scaling In-House Creative Operations with Dmitry Shamis, Hubspot


By Assemble

April 20, 2023

Dmitry Shamis is the Global Head of Creative for Hubspot. Dmitry started his career working in the mailroom at Paradigm, and ended up as the creative leader for Hubspot, where he transformed a small service based group into an in-house agency with over 140 employees.

In this episode, Dmitry walks us through his framework for scaling creative operations at an in-house agency.

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Nate Watkin: Welcome our show, Dmitri.

Dmitry Shamis: Hi. Thanks so much for having me, Nate.

Nate Watkin: The first part of the interview, just talking a little bit about your career, and then after that we want to dive into process. I know you're, you're big on process. I follow you on LinkedIn, and I'm excited to hear a lot of your experience and thoughts on that side of things. But to start off, we'd love to learn about your, your career. I, I saw an interesting note when researching your history. It looks like I think this is interesting cause of our, a lot of our, our viewers are in the film space, but it looks like you started your career as a pa. Is that, is that true?

Dmitry Shamis: Yeah. so I was in school at NYU for sports band as well. And it was like this really fun kind of thing where like I'd get to go to like basketball games and hockey games and meet like coaches and things like that. And somewhere along the, along the line I was just like, Hey, I don't actually like the business of sports side of things at, you know, I'm like 18, 19 years old. Like, I just want to go watch the Nick win. And I was, I kind of like made a pivot. So I, like, I stuck it out with like, sports and entertainment marketing. But I focused more on the entertainment side of things. And so I started like applying for internships TV networks and like, you know, at, at film studios and whatnot. And I ended up at spike tv, which I think is the Paramount Network now. It might have been rebranded again since. But they they hosted you know, several award shows and they hosted a few, like, of their own, like, original programs at the time. And yeah, I was able to to get in and, you know, run coffee and do all sorts of like, random stuff. And it was, it was a ton of fun. And I had just, I was like 19 years old in Las Vegas hanging out with like celebs and not knowing what to do with myself. It was awesome.

Nate Watkin: Nice. Yeah. That, that's cool to know that you have a little bit of background in, in media or production. But sounds like your dream as I understand, was to be a sports agent originally. And you started out the, the mail room in Paradigm and worked your way up. Tell me about, a little bit about that experience, but like, mainly what was the biggest learning that you have from that, looking back?

Dmitry Shamis: For sure. Yeah, so, you know, I wanted to, you know, I watched Jared McGuire one too many times and wanted to be a sports agent realized as I mentioned, sports side necessarily wasn't for me, but like there was still a lot of, you know, a lot of cool work that I could do where I could apply the education experience that I was picking up. And so I ended up in the mail room at Paradigm, which was awesome. And it was like this, it started as an unpaid internship before turning into a role. And like I was just like in the, I was in the back, I was binding scripts, I was sending out, you know, head shots and, and resumes. I was recording like vos and audition tapes with like SLS who were, you know, auditioning for, for different parts. And it was really, really cool.

And you know, like looking back on those times now, the thing that I probably took away the most was just a general sense of like, accountability. Like, up until that point I was like, oh, well this person might be at fault, or, you know, this wasn't me, this wasn't them. And like this unfortunate incident happened, which I still, you know, to this day, I don't think it was on me, but we were asked to ship the CEO's laptop from the New York office to the LA office cuz he was in town. I had to do some travel and you just didn't wanna bring with him, right? And it ends up in LA just like smashed this <laugh>. And you know, it's like the, my boss at the time, he comes over and said, what happened? What's going on there? And it was like, I, I don't know, like I, I wrapped it up.

I used all the best materials. I soup, like I taped the box together, did all these great things, and sure enough, the thing was busted anyway, right? Regardless of if it was my fault or, or not. Like I don't know what, what happened. But, you know, it was at that point where it was just like, well, you know what? I gotta take ownership of this and whatever happens happens. And, you know, fortunately they, you know, they were able to laugh about it and, you know, he got a new laptop and everything was okay. But from that point forward, it was just like, all right, when you, when you do something, you gotta take ownership of it. You gotta be accountable for the results, positive or negative, and you gotta learn from it. And, you know, to this day, many, many years later, that's, that's a moment I still think about pretty often.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. Important lesson. And, and for some reason I'm picturing Ari Gold in my head getting a, a smash laptop in the mail, so I'm glad to hear it was handled a little more gracefully than Ari would've handled it. But so spent, spent a number of years at Paradigm and then just took like a hard left in terms of your career. Tell me about that change and how you ended up at HubSpot.

Dmitry Shamis: Yeah, so, you know, like most rational human beings in the entertainment industry, I decided to just quit my job one day and learn how to code. And really like that came from a place of misunderstanding on my part should be told where I had started looking for, for my next role. Like broadcast television was great, but I just knew that it wasn't for me in the long run. It wasn't where I wanted to spend you know, the rest of my career. So I was interviewing with like the, the big tech companies at the time and they started asking me questions about, you know, technology, about development, engineering. And, you know, I mistook that for like, do you know how to code? And I don't know, maybe it was just kinda like what I wanted to hear, cuz like, you know, also over, over the years, I've always had an interest in development.

I've always wanted to know how it works. I've just genuinely always had a curiosity about how things work and how to, how things get put together. And like back in the day, like middle school, like I'd be building like garbage geo cities websites and things like that. Like, so it was one of those moments where it was like, all right, well they're asking about this, I'm kind of curious about it, should I go for it? And I did. And it was, it was wild. It was just like a completely different world, very different philosophies, different ways of thinking ways of thinking that I still use that like, you know, the way you approach problems, the way you break them down, the way you kind of solve one thing after the other as opposed to just like trying to do everything once. And after, after learning the code, I, I did some freelance work.

I, I was at a e-com shop in New York and I got a jury duty sent of all things. And so like, I'm sitting there in jury duty waiting to get called, not knowing what the next day or week or months of my life are gonna look like. And I get this LinkedIn message and I was like, all right, let's see. Let's see what this is all about. And this from someone I'd never met at a company I'd never heard of that was located in Boston you know, decided to respond, hopped on a call the next day, within 10 days I had a job offer and had to be up in Boston cuz the, the company wasn't as remote friendly yet at the time. And, you know, it was time to get to work. So it was like this very kind of like fortuitous turn of events where if I'm not sitting in that like jury pool room, I may not have answered that LinkedIn message and nothing would've happened or none of this would've happened.

So I get to HubSpot, I'm, you know, a developer at the time, I'm one of two there. And it was just really like this kind of like eye-opening moment where, you know, I had learned a ton about the company. Like at that point I had, I'd gone through the interview process and was really like blown away and excited. Look at all these motivated people. They're all so ambitious. Like, this company's gonna change the game. And I got there and like, the work just wasn't that. And that was my moment to kind of step in and be like, you know, we can do better. This is how we're gonna do better.

Nate Watkin: Very cool. And, and so you worked as a software engineer and, and rapidly climbed the ranks there at HubSpot. And then I think it's interesting that you were then promoted into the creative team and eventually global head of creative. Like what does that say about HubSpot's culture that they made it software engineer their head of creative?

Dmitry Shamis: I mean, HubSpot, one of HubSpot's big philosophies is like, you know, when everyone zigs you zag and you know, I think there's this kind of old-fashioned mindset around creative traditionally where it's just like, it's, it's based on TV commercials, it's based on print ads, it's based on like billboards and out of home. And for some businesses, like for sure that's the thing, that's what you need. But for, for, you know, modern tech companies, media companies, all right, someone sees that billboard, someone sees that print someone sees that te commercial, what happens next? You have to provide this like world digital experience. You have to think about what happens, like post click or, or, you know, post post view. And that was an opportunity where like between my like background and entertainment where I was building grants for, for my clients at the time, to that point in time where like I had built these really strong relationships across the board with our, you know, design team, with our video team, with, you know, our, our project managers with the fa like the functional marketing leaders. It was one of those things that just made sense. And I also pitched the hell out of it, which was, you know, I, I think worked out my favor, but ultimately, like they, they took a chance and they zagged when other people would've zig and said, let's just hire that like traditional kind of like CD type and, you know, I'd like to think it's been pretty successful.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, yeah, definitely has been successful. And yeah, I've, I've read a lot on HubSpot. I find them to be a fascinating company. You know, I've read the culture code, I've read the sales acceleration formula. And, you know, one thing I noticed especially about that book, the Sales Acceleration Formula, who was written by the guy that built the, the sales organization name escapes me at the moment, but it's, it was a v I believe he was a software engineer as well. And his approach to building out the sales team and hiring and analyzing success and everything struck me very much as how a software engineer would think about solving this problem. Which I found fascinating. Just from your time working at HubSpot, like what, what's your biggest takeaway from their culture? What do you find most interesting about the culture there?

Dmitry Shamis: I think, you know, and it's a, it's a slightly double-edged sword, but I think autonomy and transparency are just like, so crucial and not, tho those are two things that, that HubSpot has always leaned in on. Like giving people enough room to, to be creative, to, to try to problem solve, to, to do what they need to do to be successful. And just like keep everyone in the loop about it. You know, the transparency side of things is sometimes good, sometimes bad in the sense that like, sometimes, you know, you don't have anything to share and that could be like debilitating to a certain extent, but like, that's the expectation. And at the same time, like on the autonomy side, like they're, sometimes people just go heads down and, and run it something, and you, you don't know when they're gonna pick their head back up and like, if someone else might be doing the thing as well. But ultimately, like the, the, the results of, of autonomy and transparency, like are, are, are really strong, really positive. And I think HubSpot and the culture code, like, they very much facilitate that and advocate for those two things specifically. And those, like those just run through every part of the organization.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, yeah. Amazing. And so let's talk about what you did in this trade role. It's, it's pretty incredible. So you're, you're brought in to the creative role. I believe you start with just a handful of team members on that eventually grow it up to 140 employees on your team. Also originally a service-based group, you led the change to transition into an in-house agency model. Can you tell me a little bit about like, the before and after, like from a process standpoint, organizationally how that services based group changed turning into an in-house agency and, and what kind of change that you led?

Dmitry Shamis: For sure. Yeah. So like, you know, the initial expectation, this is literally like, even from like day one for me as an individual contributor was like, someone, someone has a need. Your, the expectation is that you deliver on that need, no questions asked. And, you know, sometimes the, the briefs were strong. Sometimes the data and the insights were there. Sometimes it was clear what we were doing, why we were doing it. But in a lot of cases that wasn't the case. And so, like, you were essentially asked to do something not because it, it'll work or because that's what the audience is looking for today. You were asked to do the thing because no one had an idea on what you could do that was different or innovative. And, and this thing, this recipe worked in the past, essentially. So, you know, from, from a creative standpoint, that gets old, right?

Like, you want to do things that are different. You wanna do things that are innovative, but also like, from a marketing standpoint, like it's really easy to fatigue your audience. Like if you just keep hitting them with like ebook, after ebook after ebook, they're not gonna wanna read that like anymore. They're not gonna wanna keep filling out forms, they're not gonna wanna keep doing just the same thing over and over. So, you know, we, we had this process where you could submit a creative request and it was a Google form tied to like, you know, zap here that like pushed things into the right place or the right project in Jira. And, you know, it was like first in, first out and some, for some people that was great, but like, when we're sitting there designing stickers and that's holding up like the launch of a new feature product that doesn't really look good for, for anyone, frankly.

So we really needed to think through, you know, how we prioritize what work we take on, what work we don't take on frankly as well. And how to like, get people who are used to just having everything they want done. You know, be okay with the fact that that's not the case anymore and that they're probably gonna be alternative ways to, to get that done. So, you know, what we ended up doing was finding some, some strong partners some strong stakeholders who aligned with our vision, who were like, Hey, you know, these are, these are our goals. These are the, the data points we have, these are the insights we have. We know there's something better than what we've been doing. And so we work closely with, with those partners to, to, you know, really level up the work to say, Hey, okay, so you know, this report for instance, what if we, you know, you know, what if we did a physical printout of it?

What if we actually did a book and, and hand deliver that to people? Cause we haven't done that before. Or like, what if we take this and do a video series instead of just written content? What if we don't get this and make this available to everyone, but then create like a follow up offer? And, you know, we would, we would look across the, the creative team and like rely on the functional experts, the domain experts and say, okay, well here's the problem that we're trying to solve. What should we be doing from a design standpoint? What should we be doing from a video standpoint? What should we be doing from a dev standpoint? And like, you know, there were things that made sense and there were things that didn't. And you know, we had to figure that out. But ultimately the projects that we ended up working on with those stakeholders became way stronger.

And as they started, you know, seeing our praise as other oth other stakeholders would, would see that the, the, the value in partnership is much greater than the value in, in just like service. And we started kind of just building bridges across the, you know, the, the leadership team. And that worked out in our favor in, in a lot of ways cuz you know, we, we helped with prioritization in different kind of fashion in the sense of like, we'd be in those conversations where was like, Hey, this, this thing, this idea that you're trying to come up with, that's really cool. What you're talking about is gonna take six months of work and you're trying to launch in, you know, three weeks, not gonna work, not gonna happen. Because in the past it would've been like, here's the ticket. We, we need this work in three weeks.

And you'd be like, I, I can't help you there and look, you're the bad guy. So by getting involved sooner through that partnership, all of a sudden, like you could actually provide different kinds of contexts. You could provide different levels of detail, you could provide, you know, alternative viewpoints that people didn't have that kind of set you up for, for success. Cuz you know what, maybe launching in six months with this like better you know, asset pack or whatever you wanna call it. Like, we'll actually do much better for the business than launching in three weeks with some like mediocre thing that we have to just like, you know, clump together at the last minute. So, you know, we revise our processes, we revise our prioritization model, we revise the, the meeting structure that we were involved in both from a leadership standpoint within the, the creative and brand realm, but also like with the actual like creatives and the makers who are doing the work where it was just like, you need to be in this kickoff.

You need to understand what the, the, the different goals are because otherwise you're not gonna have any of the context to be successful. And that pivoted into like a whole different model where we started to really rethink. And again, this goes back to the point on like what work we do and what work we don't do. But it kind of just changed the game for us because when, when you're on an in-house team, when you run an in-house team, when, when we work with an in-house team, the expectation is that that in-house team is gonna do 100% of the work all of the time. But I feel like that's like super flawed thinking because one, there's always more work than there are people, right? And there's, there's more work than there is time in the day, but not all of the work deserves to get done in the, in, in the way that, you know, folks might expect it to.

Like, that's not to say that the work isn't impactful to the business. It's not to say the work is important, it still is. But like, if you figured out how to, how to do the work, right? Like I talk about playbooks a lot. Like if you've figured out what the playbook is for a certain work stream, there's absolutely no reason why you need to keep, like recreating the wheel every time. Follow the playbook, automate it. If you can outsource it, do whatever it takes so that you could then create more room for yourself to actually think about that next big problem. That next big question that next big swing because I don't know, like, I think a lot of people focus so much on keeping the lights on that they forget why they're keeping the lights on in the first place, you know? So that the, the transition partnership really helped just like open, open eyes in a, in a big kind of way around. So like how we should be thinking about creative work in general.

Nate Watkin: So if I'm hearing this right, it sounds like when you first stepped into the creative group, it was more of a services model in the sense of like almost order takers. Like, hey, we need our 350th ebook, like, get us, get us this by Friday. Yes. And you instead said, Hey, we wanna actually drive creative drive strategy, be the per be the team that is pushing out creative strategy into the organization. Is that correct?

Dmitry Shamis: Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, that's exactly it, yeah.

Nate Watkin: Awesome. Yeah. Amazing. And so even though you had over a hundred people on that team, massive in-house operation, sounds like you're relying on a number of external partners and you talk a lot about the creative two by two and really how to manage that creative output. Would love if you could maybe pull that up and just walk us through a little bit of your thinking on that.

Dmitry Shamis: Yeah, for, for sure. I would absolutely love to. So this is the, the, the creative two by two that, that Nate mentioned. I've, I've since come up with a better name for it. I'm trying to call it a scaling creative framework. And it is a two by two matrix based off of like two a axis. So the first one is work that is creative driven versus creative supported, meaning creative driven means like that actual, like in-house creatives are involved in the process versus creative supported, which means that the in-house creative team is responsible for creating systems and the tooling for the creative work to be done. And then the other access so creative m creative supported is like the, the y axis. So up, down the x axis left right, is whether the work gets done externally within the, you know, externally or internally so externally meeting with like vendors and agencies internally with the in-house team versus like any kind of like self-service systems you might be putting together.

So meaning let's start with the bottom half of the, of the matrix then you have your approved vendors and your self-service systems. So self-service is I think the, the kind of like linchpin to scaling to, to doing more work than you have people who are timed for. And the way you do that is by not doing the work yourself, by asking the people who are requesting the work to actually do it themselves. And so this is something that, you know, takes a long time to build, but it's, it's pretty phenomenal if, if we're being honest. So you know, the, as I mentioned earlier in the conversation, right, like there's, there's certain work that's just run rate work. It's, it's incredibly impactful to the business, but it's not the best use of a creative style. You know, it, it takes as much time as something as, as some sort of, as a bigger bet or, or an experiment or something that you don't know how it's gonna result.

And ultimately, instead of doing that like experiment or pulling for a big bet, you are stuck doing the run rate work and you're just growing hopefully incrementally at best. And for any kind of like truly scaling organization team that's trying to do more, that's trying to punch above their weight, however you wanna frame it up, you've gotta be taking those, those big swims. You've gotta be looking for those opportunities to do things differently. So self-service systems are a great way to do that. So at HubSpot, the way we approach this was kind of in a, in a threefold manner. So first was around design. So we had built this fantastic Canva instance, our, our head of design, our designers were all fantastic and really look took to this in the sense that like, we need to, we need to build a system where we're marketers and just like everyone at the company, frankly, cuz these tools were used a across the sales team, across the, the people team product was using them, like finance was using 'em.

And it just, it just became one of those things where everyone saw the value after a certain point, but so created, you know, hundreds of templates, you know, across our different branding, sub-branding types, you know, with multiple variable or variants. And they created in a way where the, the opportunities were still flexible so that, you know, the, the people using these tools could still be successful and not feel super limited. But also in a way that was also aligned completely with our brand guidelines from not just from like a, a color and type standpoint, but also just from an accessibility standpoint from you know, from a messaging standpoint as well. Like, I guess I'd be remiss if I didn't say that the crux of any kind of good relationship with vendors with self-service systems, with, with frankly with anyone is like a very strong set of brand godliness and vendor guidelines.

Helping, helping your partners truly understand what it is you're trying to achieve and the the ways in which you are trying to achieve those things. So, you know, the brand guidelines feed into the, the design system. And I think like as of, as of most recently, you know, the, the team was pumping out like a couple hundred design assets a month, at least. I'm, I'm like, I'm trying to be, I'm trying to be conservative in my estimate. Like I know there were months where it was literally thousands as well, but like that's hundreds or thousands of assets that the in-house team is now not producing, but that are still getting done, that are getting done at a, at a, you know, level that we're comfortable and confident with and, you know, that go to market 10 times quicker than if they went through our intake process and then were routed and vetted and briefs were built and all of the things that now happened cuz like, you know, the, the days of the intake form where he is like first and first out are now gone. It's just like you, we have to think about things in a different kinda way, but that helped like really scale design in a, in a major way.

Nate Watkin: First of all, it's amazing. So it sounds like you built this whole brand design system mainly in Canva if I, if I heard that correctly. Curious for, for more rich assets, like you're getting into actual, like video content photography, maybe even recording podcasts and putting together those assets. Did you ever crack the code on that or did that you know, more complicated assets go back to the in-house creative team typically?

Dmitry Shamis: So it's, it's a bit of both. Unlike the photography, we we would take time to do quarterly, at least quarterly photo shoots. And we like another, another part of the self-service system is like the digital asset management system that you have. So we would, you know, we would make sure that all of the assets in the dam were as up to date as possible. We would retire old assets. We would make sure that, just like the team had everything they needed, because there was a world where someone just, you know, downloaded the HubSpot logo onto their desktop in Year X and that was the same logo that they'd been using for years. Meanwhile, that logo had been actually like retired or updated, you know, multiple times over that period. So like creating this like one destination where you could say like, here are all of the work arts, here are all the logos here are all of the like, illustrations and product graphics and photos essentially as, as well like, like was, was so key.

And there were like 3000 users approaching that as of recently as well, which is awesome. But like, that's where we would put the photos and we made sure that everyone had access to them, everyone knew how to use them. They were, you know, before getting uploaded, they were all edited to, to ensure that they like fit in with our brand guidelines as well. So, you know, the team had access to like thousands of, of different photos to use any given point for, for things like video and, you know, audio, podcast production. It, it really kind of depends. So this is where part of the, the playbook question comes into, into play where it's like, do we know what we're actually doing there? And if the answer is no, then that work lives with, yes, Ian has creative team so we could figure out what that work looks like.

What is the ideal workflow? Who, you know, do we have the skillset internally? Can we do this work or do we need to outsource it? Once we have those questions answered, then it's like, okay, we've done a few of these, should we keep doing them one because like it's, it's working or it's not working, but two, like, is this the, the best use of time as well? So, you know, in those instances where we say, yes, we should keep doing them, you know, the work stays with the in-house team where we say, you know what, this is awesome, this is highly impactful and we need to, as a business keep doing this, but we could spend our creative energy elsewhere. That's where we work with the, the team to find the vendors that we you know, work most closely with that align with our values that, you know, understand our guidelines and expectations. You know, we would assign a producer to the work internally to make sure that there's like motion and everything's getting delivered correctly. But that's work that we would ultimately say, we built the playbook for this, we know what the impact is on the business, let's outsource it so that it continues to go go on. And then, you know, we'll, we'll move on to the next thing.

Nate Watkin: Nice. Yeah, I got a shout out. My friend's company, my friend Champ runs a company called Capsule. Not sure if you've heard it, but on on the video note, they enable you to build those brand guidelines, but in video form so that people from different departments can create video content just like on their laptop or their mobile phone. And then everything is is true to brand. So yeah, a lot of really cool tools out there in this space.

Dmitry Shamis: That sounds awesome.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. so from, from here, from the Scaling creative framework so we talked about self-service, how about in-house creative team? Like, let's, let's drill in there. I'd love to hear, first of all, what makes the cut to say, okay, we're gonna take this in-house versus self-service or prove vendors. Vendors, and what does that process look like internally? And also what kind of capabilities do you have internally? Are you producing commercial grade video content or does that get shipped out to your agency partners?

Dmitry Shamis: So I mean that's, that's actually a really great question and a really good kind of like foundational point within like the top half of, of the matrix or like what stays in and what doesn't. And skillset is like a really, really big part of it. You know, there are things that we have the capacity for. There are things that we have the experience with and knowledge with, right? And so like, just to, to to dive in there for a sec, like, you know, the, the, the creative team at HubSpot is divided into three pillars. So the creative studio digital experience and creative operations. So wi within the studio, that's where we have our visual design work, our graphic design. We have video, let's say photography, editing, motion graphics. We have creative direction copywriting, and like a lot of the, the brand work lives there as well.

Then within digital experience, that's where the developers live, the engineers, cuz also like the team has grown at such a, such a pace that we need now, like, we now need engineers to actually facilitate the, the dev work, which is awesome. And so that's like really kind of like, like core continuous integration work and things, things of that nature. Also, QA and, and testing work and, and then we have UX and UI design, but also live there. So it's like this much closer partnership between the front end abs and the, and the UX and UI designers. And then within operations, that's where like, you know, if it wasn't for, for creative ops, like I, I don't know what anyone would do frankly, but that is our project management team that is our production team, that's resource management, that's also like creative solutions.

And creative solutions is the group that's responsible for the self-service systems. So lots of strategy, lots of execution. And then, you know, going back to, to your question, you know, while we're, we're good at all of those things to a certain level, like I don't know that the team can make a Super Bowl commercial, and I don't think that's from lack of ability, but also just like there, there are just certain, certain things that you don't have or didn't have at the company where it was like, well, you know, I don't, I don't have payroll, I don't have business affairs, I don't have like some of these just like core functions that are required to make a Super Bowl ad or a proper TVB ad. So it made more sense to, to outsource those and work with the teams that, you know, do this day in and day out to, to be successful.

But when it comes to you know, when it comes to like content creation, when it comes to tools and, you know, different digital like resources like we were, we were, we are the best. And, you know, you gotta, you gotta, I, I'd love to say that, you know, there's just this like defining kind of decision making tree or something within the framework that says this, this work lives in this bucket versus that bucket. But like, you also have to just honestly take a look at what is coming through and, and take a look at your bandwidth, take a look at your resourcing, take a look at your skillsets and if it, you know, if there's alignment across all three of those, like that should live in house. Especially if that work is seen as an opportunity for doing something bigger and more innovative and something that could be a really big kind of like exponential growth point.

 And if, if it doesn't work out in terms of those three questions, like then it's okay to outsource it as well. So long as you have the budget and the ability to facilitate. Cuz like, the reason why like agencies and production studios are in the, the top half of the matrix versus the bottom half of the matrix is because, you know, that's still like creative work in the sense that there's like more, there's a lot of strategy that's required. There's lots of alignment. There's other stakeholders that are, you know, generally involved. And so we do still like, similar to how we'll have producers on the work that it gets done by the approved vendors. Like we'll have our CDs, you know, or our like head of studio, our head of digital experience or head of ops, like associated with the work that's going on with the agencies and production studios. So it's not just like, we can't do it, like throw it over the fence, let someone else do it. Like we're still very deeply involved. We just may not be the makers behind it.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. Yeah. Got it. And so let's, let's talk a little bit about that process. I know you're big on playbooks. I, I imagine you've designed quite a system for that global creative team. But tell me about the process when a brief comes in or when an idea comes in what does that, that decision making tree look like?

Dmitry Shamis: Sure. So I mean that's, I was like the best tee up ever. I think cuz like this deck also has something like we put together called like the creative workflow chart. And so ultimately, like whenever an idea comes into play, the goal is to send it through self-service. Like, if it can be done through self-service, that's usually the best bet. It's on brand, it's quick, it's easy to go to market and it's a great place to like learn. Cuz I think a lot of what I've been seeing a lot in this industry is that people forget the MVP of whatever it is that they might be doing and they just jump into like the v1 or even sometimes straight to v2. I'm like, you don't even know the thing is gonna work. Like why are you gonna spend Meeks and months on the project that you can't, you can't possibly know what the end result is gonna be.

So if there's a world where you can push people into self-serve that's a win because you're learning almost immediately. And then you can make a decision as to like, oh, you know what, this thing actually is something. This idea is worth the time and the energy. Let's, let's build it out. Let's pump it up. Let's now build this like true V1 so we could test it in a bigger way and build a campaign around it and do all these other cool things with it. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So we try to pump people into self-service and it's not from like a lazy standpoint, it's just a, like I said, let's get the data if the

Nate Watkin: Work, and so, sorry, I wanna jump in here real quick cause I think that's really interesting. You're taking the agile product development methodology and and mirroring that on the creative side as well. It sounds like insane. Get an VP out, test it, get the data, and if it's worth for investment then we'll talk essentially.

Dmitry Shamis: That's exactly it. Where, you know, you look, I, you know, I alluded to it earlier, but as, as efficient as your intake process might be as an efficient as your prioritization process might be, like the second something goes into a queue, it's in a queue regardless of anything. Because even if you're at the top of the, the line, there's still something that's getting finished ahead of you, like a ahead of your work ahead of your request. So if there's a mechanism for you to just get it out and and into the world, like why wouldn't you try that? Why wouldn't you take that opportunity? You know, if your, if your content is that strong, if your idea, if you believe in it that much, like you should be able to spend the like half hour, hour it'll take to get the thing out the door to see if it's actually real.

 And so yeah, the agile methodology here makes a ton of sense for me because most things in marketing are an experiment. Most things in marketing, like you're trying to figure out if there's an audience for it, and that's when you invest once, you know, so like I feel like a lot of the time people make these investments before knowing the audience actually exists, before knowing the strategies worth pursuing. And so, yeah, this is something I've always kind of believed in. I'm like literally going back to my first days at HubSpot where it was just like we're, you know, we're building a modern eagle landing page. Like are you serious? Like why not just use the template? Like we just update the image, update the link, update the copy, like you're good to go. I don't understand why we have to like redo this. And you know, once we started doing that, like yeah, we got more eBooks out the door, we started generating more leads and building more offers and it was awesome. And so, like to be able to transition not to like more creative disciplines is, is, I don't know, I'm biased, but I think it's super cool. And again, and that gives you them a lot more focus to focus on the, the bigger, the bigger projects.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. And, and one last question here on the self-serve model, is that completely autonomous in the sense like, do you even track the content being created through the self-serve model or like have any sort of final sign off or approval? Or is it completely autonomous in that anyone can come and go, go into those design assets, create them, put them out, and that exists almost as its own automated system?

Dmitry Shamis: It's, it's completely autonomous. So, you know, with within like the design side of things. So Canva does a really good job of letting you build brand kits and limiting how much damage can be done essentially from a, from a brand design standpoint. So yeah, will everything be perfect? No, but you know, we've essentially built the system out to a point where like at worst everything's gonna be at like 90, 95% of where it could and should be. And you know what, that's pretty good. Same thing on the, on the dev side where like, you know, we built this fantastic system within the HubSpot seat CMS where, you know, we give marketers and everyone access to like 40 some odd web modules that are like flexible and, and you know, mold essentially into whatever it is you need them to be for the concept that you're trying to put out there.

And everything is responsive, everything is accessible, everything is on brand, everything is like, everything that I would want these assets to be. So again, like there's a level of trust because, you know, I've essentially built the system team really, it's easy for me to take your credit, but like the team has built the tools in a way that, you know, limit how, how bad something could potentially be. Although like people will always surprise you. But ultimately <laugh> when there's, you know, when there's a will, there's a way, but yeah, so ultimately everything meets meets the threshold that we're happy with, which enables this autonomous system. And while, yeah, you always, you offer enablement materials, training materials, loom videos, you, you create office hours and opportunities on Slack channels for people to ask questions like you make yourself available. Because if people dunno how to use these things and don't feel com comfortable, they're never gonna use them. So you want to be, you want you, you want to be there for them. You wanna support your colleagues, your teammates. You want them to be successful cuz they're successful and you're successful, right? Yeah. But yeah, it's, it's, it's fully autonomous.

Nate Watkin: Nice. Okay. And so jumping over to the no side of this creative flow chart, let's talk about how something goes through the process of coming to the in-house team.

Dmitry Shamis: Yeah, so if you can't use self-service resources and there's like, you know, there's a question around like, do you have budget as well, right? Like it's, it's part of the no camp, but that there's a world where, you know, those self-service vendors or like those approved vendors, like someone could go to them as well if ask is a bit too complex. But that, you know, we help with that decision. So ultimately, like when, when someone submits a request through our intake process every part of the marketing business has a project management leader associated with that world. So, you know, customer marketing has a request or acquisition, has a request, content has a request from whomever it might be that gets funneled directly to that project management leader. That project management leader along with the PMs on the, the individual PMs on the team.

They essentially build out the brief with the stakeholder who is making the request. And you know, depending on, again, bandwidth, depending on skillsets, depending on budget, depending on also priority, right? Because like the content lead for instance, could, could have 5, 6, 10 different requests. So, you know, you can, you're never gonna be able to work on all those projects simultaneously. So it's like, okay, which, you know, we, we took a brief look at all these, like these two will take, you know, three weeks, these two will take six months, these two will take, you know, whatever it might be. And you have that conversation around, look, all right, well, you know, we can knock out a few of these like low hanging fruit tasks. But you know, that that, like, that six month project is gonna get delayed as a result of that. Like what is that gonna do for the business?

What is the impact that, that will create? And you, you talk it through with, with your partner to essentially come up with a game plan and say, okay, these are the ones we're gonna do in-house. These are the ones we're gonna outsource. These are the ones we're gonna put on the back burner for later and see if like time opens up or if any, you know, resources come available. And like once you have that game plan together, it's actually pretty straightforward cuz you just get to work at that point. But like there's a lot of legwork upfront to ensure that you're doing the right work, that you understand the work that you're doing, that you're also making a, like, real business impact because you don't, you don't want to waste time. You, it, it's so easy to like lose, lose ground and if you're not working on the right things, you're gonna, you're gonna miss out.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. Yeah. I think that's interesting. And, and we talked about that a bit is, is what is the actual business impact of this? So you're not, once again, acting as an order taker, you're really getting involved in the strategy and make kind of stress testing their ideas and their, their their assumptions to make sure that it's worth the investment of the in-house team. Is that right?

Dmitry Shamis: 100%. I I, I think it's really important that creatives understand the business you have. Like, and not just like things are going bad, things are going good. Like you have to understand what your product is, you or your services, you have to understand what the features and benefits are. You have to understand what makes you stand out from your competition. Because all of that is gonna make your work better. If you actually understand why you're doing something and what the impact is, you have a different level of ownership and a different level of involvement. It's not just like, all right, sign, I gotta close this ticket and move on. It's no, okay, this is why we're doing this thing. This is how I think we can improve. This is where I think we might be missing something. This is where like my domain expertise actually enables me to see something that some of 'em doesn't have that domain expertise doesn't need to see that I can now bring to the table.

If you don't have, if you don't have that, then you're truly just like, you're, you're just delivering something to a certain spec and you don't know if it works or not. And I think like, you know, in the agency world, everyone cares. Everyone wants to be successful, everyone wants to make sure that the work that they're doing turns into something valuable, right? But also, like, you gotta move from client to client because that's the, the nature of the business on the in-house side of things. Like your client doesn't change, your client doesn't disappear. Like your, your client sits in the chair right next to you, so to speak. So like, you have to, you have to understand the impact of the work that you're doing in a different kind of way because you're like, you're embedded in a, in a very different kind of way.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. Yeah. And so to talk a moment about tooling for all this, I mean you're, you're, you're managing a pretty complex workflow here in terms of like create briefs being submitted, going to the team, you know, just allocating that to whatever resources are available to create that content. Just curious, like what kind of actual software tooling are you using to manage this? Do you have something to see like a bird's eye view of your entire production pipeline? Or, or like what does that look like?

Dmitry Shamis: Yeah, we we are reliant on Asana and Jira for, for most of that. So our intake system is built off of Asana. Hubspot at one point basically decided that we are gonna move all of marketing project management and work, whether it's creative or not, into Asana. And that's cuz like there were people just, you know, some folks were in injurious and folks were using air tables, some folks were using Trello, some folks are just using like a Google spreadsheet. So there was no kind of centralized view of everything that was going on. So we had made the investment to, to build out like this really, really strong Asana integration essentially into the marketing team. And, you know, the project managers on, on creative built out these like, fantastic you know, they're essentially forms but just like really thorough great forms that didn't take a long time to fill out, but gave you like that first like V1 lightweight grief of whatever request is. So everything fed into Asana. We could see where our backlog was, we could see what was happening with the current sprints. We could see what was launching when and where, what was on time, you know, or what was on track, what wasn't. And that was, that was really helpful. Like from a, from a developer workflow standpoint, JIRA is still more effective.

So there was a little bit of duplication of efforts in that like, you know, we would still have tickets that looked in both Jira and Asana that did like, that were literally the exact same ticket. But, you know, you just don't, you sometimes you want to mess with process, sometimes it's not worth it. And, you know, we had drawn a pilot of getting the devs over to Asana and it just didn't, it didn't pan out in the way we wanted to. So it was just, it ended up being easier to, to have two tickets rather than like asking them to just like fully blow up everything that they were doing. So

Nate Watkin: Yeah, hard to decouple that when it comes to engineering for sure, as I'm sure you know. Amazing. Well yeah, I really appreciate you taking us through that. A lot of learnings, especially for a, anybody working on an in-house team like yours. I guess my next question would be, looking back over your time running this global creative team, what would you say are your biggest learnings that you've had in terms of implementing a process and a system?

Dmitry Shamis: I think the biggest, the biggest learning is you have to bring people along with you. You know, at the start of it, I would just kind of put my head down and say, okay, this is what we're doing. This is how it's gonna work now. Like, well, someone missed that meeting or someone didn't check their inbox and they, they missed an email, whatever it might be. I'm like, not having that visibility like made them detractors in the like e NPS language or MPS language, excuse me. It made them detractors. They didn't want to participate. They liked the old way. They didn't understand why things were changing. They didn't understand why, you know, their resourcing was changing or whatever, whatever the, the question might have been. So, you know, as we, as we revised our process, we did that a lot, right? Like going from a 30 person team to you know, 150 person team, you, you have to change the way you operate.

You have to change the way you think. You have to rebuild things, you have to change the way your relationships work as well. So, you know, we, we learned that, you know, you have to bring people along with you. You have to understand what the stakeholders like about a, a system, what they don't like, what the creatives like about a certain system, what they don't like, what are the downsides to that? What are the things that you're testing and trying out what are the results of those things? Like, it's no different than like product testing. The process is a product cuz it's constantly evolving and iterating, right? It's constantly changing. So, so long as like you've, you create that visibility for your partners, they will, and this, this ties back to the point online creatives understanding the business. Like there's, there's a level of ownership that develops and all of a sudden they're excited about the new changes.

They understand the, the rationale behind them and they're ready for this new world and how things are gonna get better. But if one day you just show up and say, well this is how we work now. People are gonna tell you to, you know, take a walk and every everyone loses that situation cuz like, your, your, your new process, whatever it might be, has failed already. Like no one's adopting it and now you're back, back to the drawing board. So you get people involved sooner. The, the output, regardless of whether it's a project, a task or a process change, it's gonna be 10 times more effective.

Nate Watkin: So the the mantra if you build it, they will come, does not ring true when it comes to building out new systems within an organization.

Dmitry Shamis: Yeah, that is bullshit. 

Nate Watkin: <Laugh>, <laugh>. Awesome. Well yeah, really appreciate your time. It was super interesting to get into the inner workings of one of my favorite companies, honestly HubSpot and hear how you really built out that creative team there. So thank you for joining us.

Dmitry Shamis: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

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