Building Brands and Laying the Groundwork for Success: Kelsea Gust of Wrk

by | Oct 6, 2022 | Business

Kelsea Gust is currently the Director of Marketing at Wrk, a SaaS company providing automation tools to help businesses accomplish essential tasks without the infrastructure or high costs necessitated by more traditional tools.

When speaking with Gust, I gained an incredible amount of insight into the world of a Director of Marketing, and not only how Wrk’s proprietary software works but a general philosophy that any SaaS founder or marketing team can apply to their business outlook.

Gust has spent her career building brands and helping businesses succeed through challenging transition periods. With the introduction to her new company coming at the start of the Pandemic, she also faced some complex tasks. But this period helped give her and Wrk the clarity they needed to find the business success they enjoy today.

Making Bold Moves During the Pandemic

“I went to school for design and started developing my career building out brand identities for startups, but also organizations who are going through a rebrand.” Early in her career, she was heavily involved in helping companies through transition periods to prepare their brands for future success. This is also where she started in the SaaS world, working with a company known as SweetIQ as the design manager.

While working within the marketing team, Gust’s effort helped SweetIQ scale from its local Montreal scene into an internationally recognized brand. Then, they were acquired by Gannett, which owns brands like USA Today. This would necessitate another rebrand for SweetIQ, meaning that Gust would oversee multiple evolutions of the brand throughout her time with SweetIQ.

This experience would ultimately be what contributed to her role at Wrk. “The CEO, when he was moving on after SweetIQ, had a longtime business partner at SweetIQ, the COO. When they were thinking about what to do next, there was a tool that we used at SweetIQ to fulfill our work there,” Gust says. The internal tool was a “unique mix of humans and technology,” she says, which would lay the groundwork for their new endeavor.

When it finally came time for the duo to start their new project, they turned to Gust due to her previous work with them and the SweetIQ brand. In April 2020, she began her role as Director of Marketing for Wrk. Gust was eager to fill this new role, and she heaped praise upon her mentors, the joy of working with them at SweetIQ and the excitement of pursuing this new endeavor.

As anyone can attest, 2020 was a rough year to consider leaving a stable job for new opportunities, but Gust shared her outlook on the potential of Wrk and why she was comfortable with the move. “I knew this had huge potential, and I was really excited to work with them. So I hopped over,” she says.

The Intricacies of Wrk’s Hybrid Automation Platform

While Wrk’s tools simplify workflows, the inner workings of the technology are pretty extensive.

“The hybrid in hybrid automation is the mixing of different technologies, and we partner with or develop in-house the best complete version of the various automation solutions out there today.” Gust mentions APIs (connections between two different types of software) and how iPaaS platforms (Integration Platform as a Service), while super powerful tools, are mainly limited to public APIs and therefore present a lot of restrictions to users. Wrk’s software offers access to those public APIs, but they have also developed tools that allow users to get past these restrictions, and take on much more extensive and complex processes.

Gust explains the concept of RPA (Robotic Process Automation), a more sophisticated technology that can accomplish complex processes. This software is trained to do tasks repeatedly; however, the starting rate for a company looking for an RPA can be a quarter to half a million dollars. Wrk’s solution is to partner with RPA vendors. Instead of mapping out very complex processes as RPAs would normally do, “We create a single Wrk Action that uses RPA to do a very specific thing. So instead of having an entire process mapped out and then fixed as ABCDEFG, we will use RPA to just automate E, for example, or just B in that process, and use other technologies to tackle the rest,” Gust explains.

The final significant feature that Gust mentions is AI and OCR (optical character recognition), which she states, “Can do things like scanning notes, and getting text off of notes, scanning ID cards and pulling off the characters.” These different technological features are combined into a system Wrk uses to help customers accomplish single actions.

The piece that makes this operation truly “hybrid” is the human element. On top of all the technology that Wrk employs, they also rely on human workers, who they retain in a skilled international community, who can help accomplish specific tasks. “There are some things that a human being has to do, and that can be anything from picking up a phone to writing a nuanced introductory sentence to a sales email. There are some things that humans today are still better at,” Gust says.

How Wrk Sets Itself Apart from its Competitors

The hybrid model is already a big differentiator from the other tools that might rival Wrk on the market today. The ability to drag and drop tasks into the platform and even have tasks such as a phone call to be made by skilled workers without you ever having to call on your own employees makes Wrk an incredibly powerful tool for businesses.

But another area where Wrk sets itself apart, as Gust pointed out, is its “volume based on consumption” model. On one hand, this allows Wrk to better serve small and mid-market businesses versus larger RPA and AI vendors who target enterprises needing help with complex and expensive projects. Through Wrk’s volume-based model, companies only have to pay for work that’s delivered through the platform, which Gust notes is essential when compensating for seasonality.

“Let’s say in June; everybody’s on vacation, not a lot of work is passing through the platform…That means you’re only paying for the amount of work going through. Whereas if you have a spike in November getting ready for the holidays, you’ll pay a little bit more in November.”

Another benefit of this system is that companies considering an acquisition or other unpredicted growths in scale can process additional information without having to renegotiate a contract or sign up for a more extensive service tier.

Setting Your Own Benchmarks for Success

As Gust mentioned at the start of our discussion, she left her old position to join Wrk in April of 2020, when the Pandemic was gaining traction internationally, and the world was beginning to experience unprecedented changes in everyday life. While this brought challenges, Gust ultimately felt this period of unpredictability may have served Wrk even better in aiming for their goals.

“None of the behaviors that we could typically predict or the benchmarks that we could compare ourselves against as a brand new business existed or were reliable anymore.” Gust compares it to operating in the dark. But it allowed her to make her own choices and decide what was right for the business without focusing too much on external pressures.

“As marketers, we constantly look for external metrics and benchmarks to say we are performing up to par or above. But when you’re building a new business, it’s key to look internally and plan for your ideal state and product.” While Wrk faces challenges unique to the automation industry, she remarks that this wisdom can also apply to many other industries in their early stages of growth.

The industry’s relative youth has also brought new challenges to the sales process. Gust explains that education became essential for businesses to understand their product, its use cases, and its value.

“Figuring out how you bring users through that journey and integrating education into every single step of the sales process and becoming partners has become an important way of how we do business,” she says.

Serving High-Growth Sectors

Wrk focuses more on the individual areas in an organization rather than specific industries. “Catering specifically to the marketing, sales, HR, and finance teams within a business. Those teams tend to have many of the same challenges, whether in retail, in manufacturing or aerospace, for example,” Gust says.

If there was any correlation to industries, it would be regarding sectors with very high growth that are going through transitions, especially as they step up their digitization process.

“Currently, most teams that we work with have explored automation in some way, but for a lot of those folks, it may be the automation that’s embedded within the tools that they use, like the automated workflows that are available within HubSpot, for example.”

This often means that Wrk is serving businesses that may have automated 20% of their processes, but as Gust puts it, “Now it’s up to us to demonstrate to them ‘You can actually automate up to 80% of this.'” For the existing tools companies are using, Wrk can also conveniently integrate with them, meaning they can complement existing systems without disrupting business operations.

Advice for B2B Marketing Teams: Plan for Success

“I think 2020 somewhat obliterated any barriers between work and pleasure, and it reminded us all as marketers that our buyers are not just people who are checking in at a 9-5. They are people; they are parents, they have hobbies, they have other interests.” She urges marketers to approach buyers as “360-degree complex individuals” and to meet them where they’re at to be a more integrated part of their daily life.

This point expanded to Gust discussing how different people access and consume information and how marketers can better accommodate these avenues. “Whether that’s TikTok or different product placements out in the world, or the world of micro-influencers as a whole, there are a lot of really innovative channels on the B2C side that can be equally valuable to B2B,” she says.

“My biggest piece of advice would be to plan for success. We are told, whether through investors or through the market or through our parents, to plan for a rainy day and anticipate where things may fall through. And what could go wrong. And that’s very good advice. But we’re inundated with that advice day in and day out, and from a growing business standpoint, whether it’s making sure that you’re still supporting morale or making sure that you’re planning for a future, it’s equally, if not more important, from my perspective to plan for success.”

Gust mentions the example of a marketing team planning their campaign but still expecting leads to slowly come in. But what if one day, your campaign works incredibly well and hundreds of customers knock at your door?

“You want to make sure you can turn around and look at the machine you’ve built, the team you’ve built, and the brand you’ve built and know that it’s going to carry you through that success.”

“If being part of the startup world has taught me anything, once that roller coaster starts, you don’t have time to take a break and tear everything down and rebuild for the next phase of your journey. So even though it is a common drawback of high-growth marketing teams, specifically to be very myopic about generating leads and building the machine and dealing with the growth hacking mindset that happens in the first year of business, make sure that everything that you’re putting in place during that first year, the first three, is something that will also carry you through, or at least lead to the foundation of the three to eight-year process after success hits.

“Because otherwise, you’re going to turn around and look at the machine that you’ve built, and it won’t be able to sustain you through success. That’s the last thing you want after you put blood, sweat, and tears into building that machine,” Gust says.

What’s Next for Gust and Wrk?

Gust is mostly looking forward to the growth of the business and where the following chapters will take them. “What I’m most excited for is once we get the tool into the hands of more business operators, seeing how they think about using this tool in ways that we haven’t even imagined.”

“Once clients start to understand the full breadth of what this can do, they ask questions like, ‘well, what if we do this? And, ‘here’s a challenge in another team. Could use it for that?'”

For Gust, getting feedback from clients and exploring new ideas is the most fulfilling and inspiring part of the process.

“We have a lot of ideas about what our platform can do in the lives of specific workers within an organization. But seeing the creativity of the business user closest to those challenges taking control and running with it; that’s the most exciting piece.”

Explore the platform and learn more about Wrk.

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