Mid-spring of 2020, I took a break from remote school and worked at Zebra IQ officially (before then, I helped out the team on projects like Future Careers 5 – 9). A running joke while I was there was that we could never concretize a name for my role due to the many projects I worked on; what was very serious, though, was the flexibility I was given to grow virtually every aspect of the business. In lieu of a title, though, here are some role-defining phrases taken verbatim from the team:
Tiffany: "Brandon's my secret sauce"
Nikhil: " [you] saved the company"
Jackie: "a really ambitious kid"
Kern: "[you] know all [our] tools best"
One of my first initiatives at Zebra was to lead growth and build up a more reflective image of Zebra and its products. In February, the Zebra Earn app sat at a 2.0 average rating on the App Store and Play Store, had a fraction of its current following, and wasn't sticky — user numbers would fluctuate every week because of how easy it was for folks to forget about the app and Zebra as a company. To remedy this, I led a lot of small projects to build out the brand to something less forgettable.
I crafted and sent out a series of really clickable, semi-controversial emails that averaged a 65% open rate and 30% CTR. This drove a sizable number of new app downloads and responses that mostly lauded us for some of the most creative emails they've ever received.
Personally answered 4,250 of our 5,000 customer support tickets that year and injected nudges for 5-star reviews after every positive interaction. I also prioritized a very white-glove, engaging customer support experience which invited many occasions where users would use our help desk sometimes to just have conversations — this genuinely helped keep the good reviews coming
Farmed engagement on Instagram by creating top comments on sports and meme accounts like @houseofhighlights, @slam, @overtime and @daquan
These initiatives really rebounded Zebra's initially poor image. At the Growth team's peak, our efforts led Zebra to boast around 8,000 MAU, a 1.5x growth rate on all social channels every week, and held a 4.5 star rating on both app stores.
Gen Z Insight Articles
I led a small content team around the creation of articles loaded with Gen Z insights. Through surveys on Zebra Earn, we collected, polished, and visualized (Plotly, d3.js, Semiotic, Charts) hundreds of thousands of verified datapoints around pillars of Gen Z culture and how the global pandemic was affecting these things. The backlog of these articles ranged from titles like "How Gen Z is dating" to "How COVID–19 is affecting Gen Z's finances"
I refreshed the look and language of the Zebra IQ Instagram account. In addition to farming engagement to promote a weekly 1.5x growth rate, I redesigned very old Story highlights and built out countless templates to meet the new Zebra design language. Additionally, I pushed for the utilization of our platform beyond just the app to spread reflective resources in support of Black Lives Matter.
I created and sold the rest of the team on Tabs, a weekly recap series of Gen Z-focal news ("What we're keeping tabs on"). Over the course of 5 months, Tabs evolved into a weekly set of recap posts across all of Zebra IQ's social channels that were looked forward to by hundreds of thousands of folks, giving bite-size insights to people from other Gen Z to industry titans. I ran the entire operation, working on curation, designs (and their iterations), copyediting, and repurposing every week.
"Voice of Zebra"
For the 10 months that I was at Zebra, our brand's external facing voice was virtually all me. Firstly, I owned everything customer support — I answered 4,250 of our 5,000 new help desk tickets and prioritized a very white-glove, engaging experience that invited many interactions where users would use our help desk sometimes to just have conversations. Additionally, I wrote all of our new App Store updates for 2020, pushing for delight in all places — especially in those that were mundane. I carried this mantra over to our push notifications, which folks fell (1) in (2) love (3) with (4). Finally, I wrote Tweets from both the main and alt Twitter accounts about new Gen Z trends and shitposts, respectively. In total, these new pushes on social led Zebra to significant growth — the push doubled Zebra's following across all social channels as well CTR and general engagement rates on push notifications.
I wrote, produced, and edited a testimonial video from Zebra friends. This video was unfortunately scrapped in favor of a newer direction that was less "sterile" and so, went unreleased, but did give me some feedback to get straight to work on the new direction, which I also wrote and remotely produced content for. Here's the original video, featuring folks like Sonia, Kristie, and Walid!
Below are clips from Sonia and Kristie in the new direction — vertical videos and Snapchat filters definitely felt a lot less scripted!
Zebra IQ's State of Gen Z 2020
I individually spearheaded the curation, and creation of Zebra IQ's 2020 Gen Z Trends Report. In preparation of the report, I wrote a 40-page braindump document that amassed everything I thought would encapsulate a holistic fraction of Gen Z and their new normals, distilling down things like the meaning behind the cowboy emoji, social capital in the form of Fortnite skins, and Doja Cat's marketing "strategies" — among other things — into bite-sized formats.
One notable factor that I am extremely proud of is the report's emphasis on how much current "Gen Z culture" stems from — and more often, steals without giving credit to — Black culture. Going into writing the report, I was disappointed by the multiple Gen Z trend reports — Zebra IQ's 2019 edition included — that argued that AAVE, for example, was something native to the "Gen Z language". I wanted to use our large platform to explicitly address this appropriation and set a precedent for the future. In respect of this, besides credit given to Black creators where it was blatantly overdue, I checked in with Black and LGBTQ+ communities, sending them updates of my research and the report and making sure to work in all of their feedback
After I finished the initial document, I moved on to crafting the report's design. The next 2-3 weeks of the process were filled with design conversations, style creation, and iterations in Figma. I wanted the report to be easy to reference, delightfully playful, encourage digging deeper through it, but most of all memorable — that's how our emoji-rife, social-handle-rich, colorful report was born!
The report superseded all of our expectations. At noon on release day — under 3 hours after the drop, we did:
162k+ impressions, 747 likes, 174 RTs on Twitter
14k+ views, 15 reshares on LinkedIn
6,519 website visitors
4,665 new email subscribers and downloads
which left the numbers of 2019's report in the dust (~2,500 downloads to date).
Additionally, our report was also privately presented to the NCAA, MLB, MLS, and RGA. Our content was also re-covered by a sizable number of folks: Fortune, The Hustle, Forbes, AdWeek, Yahoo Japan, Andreessen Horowitz, and more. The report was also lauded by some awesome folks in the industry: Alexis Ohanian Sr., Jeremy Liew, Benedict Evans, and more. You can view the final report here.
Although COVID generally knocked all the feet off of it, I conceptualized and recruited folks into Zebra's inaugural ambassador program. The two notable factors that I believe made Zebra IQ's program much different than any other companies' was that:
It was student-first. Coming from experience and guerilla research, it was difficult to distinguish one company's ambassador program from another — between the lines of marketing fluff, all of them rewarded the ambassadors who shoved the most promotional material down other students' throats. Instead of encouraging tagged Instagram posts for branded sweatshirts, I talked to students across the country and academic institution spectrum to boil down their insights to an ambassador program that they essentially crafted.
It aimed to be diverse. Instead of sending algorithmically-blind DMs on LinkedIn and Instagram, I hand-recruited students that I knew to get others excited about the program. Additionally, I tapped into boarding schools in the East Coast, unified school districts in Atlanta, and historically Black institutions among other groups to build our initial student roster!
I brainstormed creatives and designed slide decks for creator partnerships (select list: 24kGoldn, Ndamukong Suh, Shluv House, Wengie, Tatayanna Mitchell, and Alan Chikin Chow). These decks would be very successful, mainly because I spent hours painstakingly whitelabeling sections of the report in creators' own language — I scoured the web for video clips, Tweets, literally anything to make it increasingly difficult for creators to not already see themselves on Zebra in the very personalized deck we sent them. Additionally, I fully fleshed out and led some frankly irreplicable activations with creators. Some public examples from our hand-picked early creators:
Ndamukong Suh community and giveaway
Shluv House superfan community video chat
24kGoldn "Mood" early listen
24kGoldn Data Visualization
To sell Golden to start a community on Zebra Earn, I very quickly scraped, cleaned, parsed and designed a deck to show him how successful he was on Zebra in his first week. The document sold Golden and quickly became an integral whitepaper for Zebra sales to help convert others — one creator said that they were "obsessed", "needed shit like this", and "[couldn't] wait [to be onboarded]". Done with Figma, d3.js, Plotly, Semiotic, and Charts
I researched, built, and launched the new version of the Zebra IQ Discord server, a vibrant community that replaced an old, unmonitored server that Zebra had built earlier. On the server, I built a self-serve tooling system using bots and the Discord API to allow different users (Gen Zs, Millennials, Boomers, and Insiders) to receive specialized content. This server became a community for super users, Zebra OGs from 2017, and internal Zebra team members to discuss app feedback and also acted as a funnel for new Gen Z news and trends to keep eyes out for — this powered things like our content and Tabs, for example. To also keep the community pretty tight in the beginning, I also hand-picked folks from Zebra Earn who got the first invites onto the community (generally folks with high NPS scores — folks who'd spend a lot of time at the help desk or have high Streak scores, etc). Finally, I also wrote out an extensive community roadmap for Insiders, including activations and potential avenues to explore like becoming a testing ground for Gen Z apps, paid trendspotting, and a place to discuss the Zebra Earn daily question.
I was part of Zebra's small Product team (Nikhil, Kern, and I) to flesh out Zebra's enterprise business of connecting brands to Gen Z through exhaustive surveys on Zebra Earn. I wrote $5,000 – $15,000 agreements for interested businesses, copywrote every survey that was deployed, designed public-facing case studies on our results, and worked white-glove with brands at scale to produce detailed campaign-changing insights (select folks include Postmates, Snapchat, Levi's, Affirm, Genies, YouTube). To pull out all the stops in campaign completion, I built and utilized tooling to get all campaigns to the finish line using Retool, Intercom, Discord, and even Google Voice on top of working very closely with our Engineering team to roll out a minimal feature set for our surveys like conditionals, question piping, etc. On top of this, I shielded engineering bandwidth by batting away any client request for additional survey functionality that wasn't hackable with what we already had. Our first client turned around 134,000 final data points (of an initial set of 1,000,000+) in 26 days and rewarded users $150/completion
During my time at Zebra, I was the only non–C-suite party to have access to all internal Retool dashboards because “[I knew] all the tools best”. I kept all of Zebra Earn alive by scheduling Daily Questions for an entire year, writing fun push notifications, and data-pairing tangible insights with what got the most engagement through our Amplitude reports. I became a vocal voice about improvements and downscalings that would make our internal dashboards and developer tools better, leading to the creation / augmentation of several dashboards including Survey Admin View, Push Notification Tester, more. I was the go-to person for building survey demos for literally everything — potential clients, app refreshes, etc. and built relevant surveys on-the-fly that led to sales, creator partnerships, and the closing of enterprise clients, among many things. Below is the latest demo that shows off every possible survey question type on Zebra Earn
I almost individually spearheaded Zebra IQ’s help desk on Intercom, evolving the tool into the robust FAQ-catching system it was. In my first week at Zebra, I cleared the backed up backlog of over 1,000+ support tickets, developed a tagging system, and wrote saved responses and designed granular help articles to slash the time to answer support tickets to virtually no time at all. I answered + triaged 80% of all new tickets across my time at the company and my help articles sat at a 100% customer satisfaction average
One of the things I did during my first week at Zebra when I was focused solely on infrastructure was create a library for internal playbooks and videos that I produced. The playbooks were exhaustive, detailed step-by-steps of how I quickly did things, highlighting especially ways that I injected delight into seemingly menial things like answering support tickets, writing help articles, or putting out Tweets on the main account. The videos were bite-size clips of me using things like the Push Notification Tester or other Retools to help folks quickly learn about our internal apps. In total, I wrote and maintained 10 playbooks and an extensive Loom library on every piece of our internal tooling.