Growth Strategy as an AI Fintech Startup

Cleo's VP of Growth Chris Hamblin recently gave a talk for the AWS Accelerator program, moderated by Maeve Hannigan, giving a broad overview of how Chris leads the Cleo team towards achieving success in the growth pillar of our company. Learn more about how Chris' background and his philosophies on marketing an AI fintech product.

Growth Strategy as an AI Fintech Startup featuring Cleo's VP of Growth, Chris Hamblin


We have slightly different ways of doing that. When I joined, it was just me in the growth pillar. Over time, we figured out where we can really add value, and that's kind of defined where we sit. The way I think about it, and the way Cleo thinks about it now, is we sit between brand and product.

You've got our brand marketing team that is all about awareness and emotional connection and how we position ourselves in the market- that’s one side of what growth does. On the other side, we have our core product teams who are adding value. They're building new features, they iterate on it, and they're actually making our app more valuable for users, like solving problems. Growth sits in between those two pieces or those other two functions.


When we think about what success means for us, we really split it down into three parts for growth. The first is the corner financials. The second is usage of our app. And the third is the diversification of new products. The first bit, I think, is the fundamental reason that growth is there. So we want to grow the revenue of the company. That's the chief thing. We want this company to be big. And the revenue is a way we can measure that. But it's beyond just getting massive. You can pour money down bad funnels, grow the company, and then watch it die a year later.

We're about efficient, responsible growth. So for us, it's about growth, but also about payback periods. How do we think about the value we generate from the money we spend? We use ROAS, which is the return on our ad spend. So 100% return means that within 12 months, all the money we spend, we've recouped. We've taken this approach of, well, how do we increase the LTV of users while bringing down the cost to acquire them together as a way of driving ROAS up? We've taken our payback period from above 18 months to under six months. Our best channels are now under three months over the last couple of years. So it's been a pretty static growth trajectory for the company where we've kind of more than doubled year-on-year, but also absolutely slashed our payback period at the same time, which means we can keep growing, right?

You're growing at 2X, but if your payback period is five years, you've got some trouble coming. So when I think about what success means for growth, that first bit is that core financial. Can we grow? Can we keep it efficient? Can we power the company? That's the first part for us. The other thing we look at is, how are our users' financial health changing, right? How many of our users actually feel that Cleo is helping their financial health? These things should all grow in line with each other, but making sure they do is part of what we do. Without those things tied together, it's hard to do that. 

The third part of the way we think about what growth needs to be achieved is also diversification. While we might want LTV or revenue growth, we also want to solve or to succeed in our mission. The other part is, how to make sure our new products grow. They might not generate revenue to begin with, and they might not help our users the way we want them to, but we need to invest in that to make sure that, again, three years from now, we've got more features that can help people with more problems.


To begin with, it was all about “how do we get payback period down next month? How do we keep our costs down next month?” We're a small company, I think there were 30 people when I joined, and one of my big things was, we need to look at the payback period of our spend. We need to understand what the impact of what we're doing is. That was a big shift in the way we think about marketing.

We're kind of spending brand and mission-led, which, there is a time to do that. I think where we were as a company, we needed to bring it back into “what's our LTV? How much can we afford to spend? What's the payback period? How can we maximize this engine and really get this working?” So a lot of my first 18 months at Cleo was just focused on that problem. How do we get more channels live? How do we spend more money and bring the payback period down? And that was really the entire focus of the whole pillar as we built it out.

As we're getting bigger, we've built a big gap between what we spend and what we make back in. Now, we're a bigger company. We don't look month-to-month or even quarter-to-quarter. We're looking at year-to-year. How do we make sure we're set up well for 2025? I think that's the big change. 


When I joined, we were using an agency and running ads on Meta. That was all we did for our marketing. We were spending a few hundred thousand pounds a month. What the change looked like was we did a few things, but we brought that in-house and we also diversified massively. 

We moved through testing almost every channel you can imagine. One of the big changes were, we're going to bring this in-house and rapidly up the pace to try new channels out. So we've tried almost every kind of digital channel you can imagine. We've been very rapidly going through that challenge until we have a really diversified portfolio of marketing spend across eight key channels. We're much more resistant to any changes anywhere or competitive movements. We're allowed to move our money around to account for that, which has been a big change. It gives us not only better performance, but [we’re] a lot more risk averse, and we don't worry so much. If Meta had a problem, the whole company stopped acquiring people. That's obviously a very dangerous place to be in as you get big.


It's one of the things I'm most proud of almost- that tone of voice of who Cleo is- it's not static, but she has a feel and a way of speaking that there's a lot of different ways people understand their finances… it's about being empathetic but also about holding people to real account for what they're doing, and you don't get that by looking at a chart of what you've spent, or looking at a budget of what's coming in-and-out. You need that, but you need that voice over the top of it to kind of cut through, otherwise people don't change their behavior.

It was very intentional and we really invested heavily in comedians, if I'm honest. We had a lot of up-and-coming female comedians who really created that tone-of-voice themselves and it was very organic. They used to sit together and just cheer around what they're going to say, how she would respond to different questions.

To your point about how do you keep that consistent, you have to be quite deliberate about it. We have to have a lot of checks and reviews to make sure that voice is consistent throughout the product. Also, you have to test quite a lot to find when we launch a new product, “how would Cleo talk about this?” Like what is the right angle for her to be coming in on that is cutting, funny, but also is caring?


I think when we think about our growth, a lot of it's not finding the right answer the first time, it's making sure that we can get to the right answer quickly. I think that's been one of the big things I'm very proud of. As a company, we're not afraid to say, well, we might invest a lot of work in this, but we now know it's not working. Let's completely step away from this, and let's think about where we go next.

When I talk about LTV of users, which are very commercial metrics, what it really means is understanding “who are our users?” What value do they get from the product? How are we helping them? And where do we find them on the marketing channels?”

If you're finding people who get value from your product and you're giving them value, everything else will, in some sense, look after itself. One of the things we found a lot of value in is revamping our CRM and revamping our kind of in-app entry points, which is quite tactical stuff we had to do. But that's something that's delivered us like win after win after win, by getting really data-backed but opinionated about what we think is best for the user at any given moment.

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