Tamara Grominsky and the future of Unbounce
Inside her relentless mission to empower the next generation of entrepreneurs and small businesses.
When you first meet Tamara Grominsky, an executive with the marketing automation company Unbounce, the first thing you’ll notice is how well she communicates. If you read her LinkedIn profile, skim her personal website or listen to any of her podcast appearances, you will actually figure this out before you meet her. She’s well-spoken. Her writing is crisp. She can weave together a great narrative. She has artisan intangibles. I think creative types would say she has good taste.
More notable is that she seems to combine that artistic temperament with an elite athlete’s discipline. She doesn’t stop at vision and ideas; she has the will to actually get things done. Like an ‘Incrementalist,’ as described in Scott Belsky’s famous book Making Ideas Happen, Grominsky’s history shows that she’s “able to bask in idea generation, distill the Action Steps needed, and then push ideas into action with tenacity.”
Recently, this tenacity has been on full display. Grominsky has been instrumental in bringing Unbounce’s Conversion Intelligence technology to market and helping to increase the company’s growth rate, all while building multiple high-performing teams. She also played a critical role in the company’s COVID-19 relief strategy, minimizing the pandemic’s financial impact on both Unbounce and their thousands of customers.
Today the company announced her promotion—her third in under three years—from Vice President of Strategic Growth to Chief Strategy Officer. It puts her on Unbounce’s C-level team (now fifty percent female) and in charge of the company’s strategic vision, partnerships and monetization strategies. She now oversees a team of 15 employees focused on product marketing, customer lifecycle marketing and business development and partnerships.
It’s rare for anyone to climb a corporate ladder that quickly in any industry, let alone a woman in tech, which begs the question: How did she do it? And can what got her here, get her and Unbounce where they must go next?
An ‘MBA for creatives’
The daughter of entrepreneurs, Grominsky grew up in Waterloo and says she’s always wanted to tell stories. To make that happen, she studied English and professional writing in her undergraduate degree, which explains her storytelling savvy. Her specialization was in publishing, and it was then that she started wondering, “How do you commercialize storytelling?” she told me on a recent Zoom call. To find out, she did a master's in publishing at the only institution that offers that kind of program in Canada: British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University. She learned about royalties, magazine publishing, and printing processes. “I was really fascinated by this—the intersection of business and storytelling,” she says. She refers to her experience there as an MBA for creatives.
Post-graduation, one of her first jobs was at Groupon competitor SwarmJam, a division of Postmedia. There, Grominsky worked as an editorial manager, coordinating deals and working with writers. She remembers the most learning happening in conversations with the customers.
In the trade press, questions were being asked about how much value group buying companies actually provided to SMBs. But Grominsky saw the real impact inside, which wasn’t as negative as public perception may have suggested. “For small businesses, it was a really exciting distribution channel where they could get out and reach new audiences that they might not be able to,” she explains. Yes, there was pressure on businesses to discount their products. But they leveraged deal sites to reach first-time customers, which could result in repeat purchases.
The job helped her understand “the impact that partnerships and broader distribution could have on small businesses,” she tells me. It also got her asking, “How, in other ways, can we help small businesses?” It’s a question she has been asking at every single job since.
“Growing a business within a business”
Over the next few years, she worked at multiple marketing and media agencies back in Ontario, and she found the pull of once again working more closely with SMBs irresistible. She joined Yellow Pages (YP) Canada where she would help the stuffy telephone directory company—and the businesses that relied on its reach—adapt for the digital age.
At the time, YP was exploring ways to get small businesses to take the dollars they were investing into print advertisements and shift them to digital products. But they had no digital products to sell them. As a senior product marketing manager, Grominsky got to help solve this problem in what was essentially a digital agency within the company tasked with bringing “digital products for SMBs to market,” she recalls.
When she joined YP, the company wanted to build products focused on websites, SEO, pay-per-click advertising and social media. In her two previous jobs, Grominsky had spent significant time working on new social platforms, and this experience was becoming especially relevant. At YP, she would go on to build a product where businesses could pay to have their entire social media strategy developed and managed—including content creation and Facebook and Twitter advertising.
Many SMBs were just learning about social media strategy, trying to understand how they could reach a digital audience, and Grominsky and her team got to be their guide in a new digital universe. “It was like growing a business within a business,” she exclaimed. What kind of growth? Grominsky’s product initially served 50 customers; she grew it to over $12 million in annual recurring revenue.
Product marketing master
At this point in Grominsky's career, her product marketing bona fides were in full bloom. She knew this, and she wanted to take those skills—or more accurately, the combination of skills that make a great product manager and marketer—and use them deeper in the technology sector.
“What exactly constitutes product marketing management?” I ask her. It’s not a simple question to answer for anyone outside the B2C and B2B world. You might describe product marketing as just a matter of bringing a new product to the market, but that wouldn’t do it justice. And even if you understand it as a theory, it takes a versatile individual to put it into practice.
In Grominsky’s case, you could say that she’s a theorist, a practitioner and a teacher. When asked what it means to be successful in the discipline, she responds with her trademark clarity and enthusiasm: “You need to be able to communicate a compelling vision, and you need to be a translator,” she explains. You must be able to speak different languages within a business. When you're talking with engineers, you must speak to them in the language that they're used to, she adds. “But then you have to be able to go to the marketing teams, or the customer success teams and be able to communicate that technical vision in a way that they understand and can then convert into website copy and marketing campaigns. You're kind of always floating between different parts of the business and really leveraging your communication skills."
At cloud accounting company FreshBooks, where she worked after Yellow Pages, her focus was on helping the firm establish core product marketing frameworks and go-to-market strategies. It was all second nature to her now.
West coast revival
Throughout this period, Grominsky had kept Vancouver in the back of her mind, and after lobbying her husband for five years to move back, they both agreed to pack up and head out West. They both quit their Toronto jobs, and Grominsky got busy leveraging her communication skills to secure her next gig.
By chance, at the same time that Grominsky and her husband were planning their move, Ryan Engley, Unbounce’s then head of product marketing, had been struggling to fill a product role for six months. He had been so unsuccessful in finding candidates that the company removed the posting from the website.
But Grominsky—never one to accept the world as it is and determined to land a job at a company that matched her passion for small businesses—applied for a different role at the company, just so she could tell them what she actually thought she should be doing there: support small businesses by helping to build products for them. After a few conversations with Unbounce employees, they thought she should be doing that too. “So it was just like, serendipity,” she laughs.
From customer strategy to strategy chief
One of the early projects she worked on was the company’s customer segmentation strategy. The business had been around for ten years, was well-known in the landing page space, and was now considering what the next decade would look like. As Grominsky tells it, she was able to get in on the ground floor. “My early work was really focused on redoing our customer segmentation and understanding who our best customers were,” she says. “It was digging into our customer data and understanding who are we attracting? Who was staying with us? Who is getting value from the product?”
She also explored what the broader market looked like. How fast are different market segments growing? Which markets could support the company’s growth ambitions? The key learning and focus ended up being on how Unbounce could support the small business market and empower them to get a growth advantage. “That segmentation work has really become one of the cornerstones of our overall conversion intelligence and business strategy,” Grominsky says, “and something that we reference daily at Unbounce. It was my first big win, I guess.”
The conversion intelligence technology that Grominsky refers to has manifested itself in a number of ways. One of the first products released as part of the strategy was called Smart Traffic, an artificial intelligence-powered landing page tool. (“A conversion genie for small businesses” read the press materials.) The product reportedly increased conversion rates by an average of 30% over traditional A/B testing, giving small businesses better results in less time.
The goal with Smart Traffic was to put expensive AI technology traditionally designed for large businesses into the hands of small enterprises. “We want SMBs to be able to compete against big business, regardless of their budget or headcount,” is how Unbounce co-founder Carl Schmidt once described their goals with the product.
Grominsky expands on this vision and describes the broader problem they’re trying to solve like this: “There is a much larger problem going on even beyond Unbounce… the world is not built to support small businesses.” It’s difficult to start one. They generally have fewer resources. Business owners are often wearing multiple hats. “They don't have the luxury of spending their whole day just thinking about landing pages and conversion rates… Our conversion intelligence strategy, really, at its core, is about empowering small business marketers to combine their own marketing know-how with machine learning tech to achieve results that just would not be possible on their own.”
She continues, “A lot of people talk about machine learning and artificial intelligence as something that's going to automate everything and replace people's jobs. But we do not believe in that; we believe in a true partnership between our customers and machine learning. It’s about augmentation, rather than automation.”
It’s a compelling vision, and Unbounce has tapped Grominsky to carry it out—arguably because she’s more equipped than anyone else to not just sell it, but achieve it. The evidence for this is threefold. First, there’s her relentless pursuit of supporting small businesses, which has featured throughout every single one of her jobs. Second, there’s her growing and eclectic toolkit of skills and experiences—from her writing and publishing degrees to her media work, to her experience helping organizations navigate the uncharted territory of the digital age, to her more recent customer and product marketing feats. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there’s her incrementalism, her habit of making ideas happen—for her customers, for her companies, and for herself.
When asked about her rapid ascent at Unbounce, Grominsky basically shrugs. She’s always been very intentional with her career plans, she says. “Have a dream, have a vision, be willing to work hard to make that dream and vision come to life,” she answers. So far that framework has worked. The trick will be to uphold her current run of form. I have a feeling she’s nowhere near her peak.