‘On Growth’: Objective & Series Outline

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Evolution of Growth Objectives through Life cycle of a Startup

“I think that there are really three distinct stages. Going from finding your product market fit, to really trying to design and build your go to market model, and then finally really operating at scale and trying to drive towards profitability. They are related entities, but they are different sports.

It’s not like going from minor league hockey to junior hockey to the NHL. It’s really that you’re picking up a brand new set of skills with completely different motions. It’s important to recognize that you have to have a really conscious shift and have a distinct mindset that prepares yourself for each of these phases.”

David Baga, Chief Business Officer at Lyft

During my time heading Growth at Meesho, and since, impressed by the explosive growth they have had, a lot of people in the startup community have approached me seeking advice on growth.

Some of them are looking for growth hacks and never talk to me again when I break it to them that there is no such thing.

But most people that I have interacted with, especially founders in early stage startups, are extremely smart people who have done their homework. They have read everything that is there to read on growth. They get it all too. It’s just that they are trying to grow faster than they currently do, are running into different kinds of problems in the process, and want specific advice on them.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Leo Tolstoy

Looking back at the conversations I have had, while there is some uniqueness to everyone’s problem, there are also some patterns in how problems are specific to the respective stage of the startup.

More importantly, there are some common objectives startups focus on at a specific stage of growth. And equally importantly, what they do not focus on. Sometimes by commission, often by omission.

Coming to my angle: While existing blogs and books on growth lay down principles for growth very well, and often have case studies from different startups to contextualize them too, there is relatively less discussion on the core objectives the startups should be focusing on at a stage, and the relevance of growth principles and advice to the respective stage of the company.

Reflecting on the quote by David Baga, I reasoned that perhaps having seen these stages closely, I can add value to the wider discourse by sharing how the focus areas of a Growth team changes as your startup keeps scaling.

Hence, this series.

This article, first in the series of five, introduces the key objective of the series and outlines what to expect in the rest of the series.

5 articles! What all are you going to cover?

To keep the articles reader-friendly (i.e. around a 5-minute-read) and focused on one particular stage, I have planned the series in the following way:

#0: Objective and Outline: you are here and, hey, congratulations, you are almost 20% done with the series!

#1: Finding your product-market fit: relevant for pre-Series A startups

#2: Building your go-to-market model: relevant for post-Series A startups

#3: Operating at scale: relevant for Series B, Series C startups

#4: Building Growth Function: nuances of building a growth team

In #1, #2, and #3, I will broadly discuss the following questions for that stage:

  • What should your team be focusing on, and why?
  • How should you go about it: are there some common ways and pitfalls?
  • Who, in the team, should be working on it?

In #4, I will discuss the hidden bits: the organizational aspects of running a growth team. Spoiler alert: it’s pretty similar to a classic user funnel, really. Hiring talent, assimilating them, getting them to succeed.

Great, that’s it! If this introduction has interested you enough, watch out for the rest of the articles every week through October.

Happy reading!

PS: Will there be growth hacks though?

Short answer: No. Sorry, it’s just that I don’t know any.

Long answer: Yes, growth hacks exist. Just like life hacks do. Or legal and finance hacks. (But will you hire someone who calls themselves ‘Finance Hacker’ on their resume?)

If, by hacking, you mean solving a problem in an innovative way, yes, growth hacks exist. If, by hacking, you mean borderline wizardry which instantly reduces your acquisition costs to peanuts and makes your product so viral that it puts corona virus to shame, sorry, I must excuse my ignorance on this once again.

I don’t dislike the phrase ‘growth hacking’; I just avoid using it. It has some baggage from the misuse over the years, sets the wrong expectations, and is, therefore, problematic.

But if you really, really want a growth hack, and are going to find one anyway, here is a framework on how to use them safely:

  1. Why: Know your objective. Know the metric to measure it. E.g. Profitability %, Revenue Growth Rate.
  2. What: Understand input variables (independent, exhaustive) of that metric e.g. footfall, conversion. Bucket these levers as focus areas.
  3. How: Assign projects (no more than two; preferably one at a time) to each input variable and do whatever it takes to complete those projects. Did it move the input metric or the output metric? Yes? Repeat step 3 at a bigger scale; call it your playbook. No? Think about #1 and #2 deeply, make modifications, and, then, repeat step 3.

Growth hacks are allowed in step 3, not allowed in step 1 and 2.

If someone is telling you they will growth hack your business, you have 2 options:

  1. Take ownership of understanding your objective and business levers. See if they have relevant, useful, and structured inputs to help you with ideas to move the levers.

2. Stay away. Preferably this.

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