Startups: Here’s A New Way to Think About Growth

There seems to be an overemphasis on tactics and shortcuts as a means to grow. But are tactics enough? And will shortcuts really lead to growth?

Usain Bolt pose

Think Usain’s looking for shortcuts or hacks?

Do people like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps become the world’s greatest by taking shortcuts?

Or do they have a training plan (strategy) and focus on doing the right things really well?

I want to talk about why a strategy needs to be your foundation for growth.

Without a strategy it won’t be clear where you want to end up, which tactics will get you there, how to measure your progress, or how to improve.

So, how do you create a growth strategy, and where do you start?

  1. Start with internal alignment

Obtaining internal stakeholder buy-in and support for your growth plan is critical.

Growth is an outcome achieved through coordinated effort across your company, not by a marketing department working in a bubble.Ducks in a row

Your growth strategy should also align with your corporate strategy.

What are the growth expectations of the rest of the team or your execs?

It’s also important to clearly define the type of growth you want.

Is it to grow revenue, users or customers? Is it to grow market share, enter new market segments or regional markets? Or do you have a different growth goal?

  1. Decide how to measure success  

I’m sure we can all agree that the only way to know which growth tactics work, which work best, and which provide the greatest return on investment is by measuring and tracking them.

The good (and the bad) news is that there’s no shortage of metrics your startup can track and measure.

In fact, there can be a temptation to track too much, adding needless overhead, and overwhelming you and your team.

The key is to decide which ones are most important to your business, and know how you’ll use each piece of information.

For each metric, it can be useful to ask “how will I use this information?”, and “so what?”. Use these questions to decide what to measure, and to know how you’ll use the information.

When looking at the success of your tracking and analysis, it can also be useful to ask “how will you know when it’s working?” (thanks Seth Godin for that one).

If you’re not sure what to measure, here are 16 startup metrics (courtesy of Andreessen Horowitz).

Measuring customer satisfaction (not included on their list) can also provide valuable feedback on what you’re doing well, and where further improvement can be made.

  1. Clarify what you know (and what you don’t)

Knowing your customer can reveal growth opportunities. If you don’t have the customer insight you need, pursue it relentlessly.

Here’s a partial list to get you started:

  • Who uses the product today? What types of end users, companies and industries?

  • How do customers use the product today?

  • What problems, pains and/or business challenges do they use your product to solve?

  • What do users like and dislike about the product?

  • What customer problems are still unaddressed?

  • Where is there low market or user adoption?

  • How do they discover your product?

  • How have customers responded to previous offers / pricing changes?  

Asking these questions can expose criticism, and the hard part can be resisting the urge to refute what’s been uncovered.

We have to put our ego aside and be open to the feedback. Separating yourself from the product is critical to hearing the customer and seeing the data objectively.

It’s also useful to look at competitors in your market. What do they do well, and where do they falter? Do they use strategies or tactics you should avoid, or can take and improve upon?

Similarly, are there partners who could help you be more successful in existing markets, or to enter new ones?

  1. Define your tactics

At step 4, we’re just starting to consider go to market tactics (where many companies begin – prematurely).

Creating a list of inbound and outbound marketing options can start to frame the decisions you need to make, and consider how they’ll support your growth strategy.

Which have and haven’t been tried? Which have worked well? How might you get better results?

Speaking with others in your company (e.g. sales) can provide useful input on which go to market tactics to use.

Creating a prioritised list of tactics can clarify which are of highest value to your company, and should receive the most resources (time and money).

  1. Seek continued improvement

Like your cat, your growth strategy and tactics need continual love and care.

Grumpy Cat

Ignore me at your peril…

If you’re not keeping an eye on your growth strategy and tactics (or your cat’s litter box for that matter) you could be in for some nasty surprises.

Your growth strategy needs to evolve with the changing needs of your business, and tactics needs to be added, removed and improved.

What you track and measure will provide valuable insights into the areas needing attention.

If you’re not sure which apps to use, there’s a handy site called GetApp where you can search and compare tools.

Continued improvement also applies your product.

How are you capturing and relaying feedback to members of your team who can make the product even better?

The Hard Part About Growth

There’s an infinite number of strategies and tactics your business could use to grow. Where do you start? What will work best for your business?

How we think about growth is important. Strategy and tactics can’t be set and forgotten, they must be treated as living and breathing things.

Growth is a mindset. It requires clarity of vision, proactive measurement and improvement. It puts the customer first, and the ego aside.

And now, over to you…
How has your company approached growth? What has worked well? What advice do you have for other startups? Drop me a line and let me know.

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