Growth fundamentals often get missed.

Over the past six years I’ve led growth marketing at two venture-backed startups (Series B, C), and I’ve talked to countless founders and operators.

Important growth fundamentals often get missed.

I recently posted an essay called "Where does growth begin?" to try and spell out a few of these fundamentals. Here's a link to the piece.


In this essay, I try to answer some basic questions like:

  • What does growth actually mean?
  • Do we get too caught up thinking about it early on, when we should be focused on survival?
  • How do we achieve a balance between survival and growth?
  • How can you leverage data from the early “hand to hand” stage to improve market positioning and achieve sustainable growth?

I include examples about early stage customer acquisition from some of my favorite entrepreneurs, like my friend Nathan Resnick from Sourcify and Bubble Hotels.

If you check out the piece and want to drop questions/comments/feedback below, I'm going to stick around and respond to every one.

And if you're looking for a single takeaway, it's that when a startup tries to grow before it’s ready to grow, it could lead to an over-emphasis on optics over reality, and even the death of your startup. Here's what I call characteristics of growth-readiness:

  • Paying customers. A significant number of happy, paying customers.
  • Signs of life on your website. Low thousands of monthly unique website visitors (preferably earned, but paid works too) that aren’t bouncing, with at least some coming through as qualified leads, however you define a qualified lead (add to cart, checkout, signup, demo booked, etc.), even if the conversion rate is very low.
  • Funnel benchmarks. Your conversion rates should have some level of statistical significance, so that you can identify opportunities for improvement, make changes, and effectively measure the impact of those changes.
  • Confidence around market demand for your product, and around your market positioning (even if it’s constantly evolving).
  • Ideas for marketing channels and tactics that can scale your top of funnel.
  • An efficient sales process to close new deals (even if it’s just one or two people and a lightweight CRM)
  1. 2

    Nice article @okaybuilder! I really like the emphasis on hand to hand efforts when your focus is surviving.

    For entering growth mode, what does that look like in your mind? Does that mean investing more is SEO/SEM, product launches, etc? I see a lot of other indie hackers on here setting up PPC on AdWords to help validate their MVP and also launch on product hunt. Is this something you would advise to do? Thanks!

    Side note: Just joined Growth Mentor yesterday and hope to connect with you and @fotipanagio soon!

    1. 3

      Thanks @kevingalang, glad you enjoyed the article!

      Very cool that you joined Growth Mentor, and please do book a call with me.

      Regarding your questions, here's what I'd say...

      A) I just heard Niki Scevak, a well known Australian VC say that "Playbook is a very dirty word in customer acquisition."
      You can listen to the full quote here (2-min audio + transcript).

      I actually shot Niki a message and told him I partly agree... it's more about understanding that there's no such thing as one-size-fits-all growth channels or tactics. Each has to be individualized to your particular audience, product, etc. Something that works well for one business can fail when applied to another.

      Each channel or tactic needs to be individualized for the business.

      It's easier than ever to outsource information and advice, and even outsource work through freelancer platforms. But good freelancers will help you adapt a particular channel or tactic to your audience and funnel.

      B) Google Ads for paid search can be a very straightforward way to buy relevant traffic for your business. You don't even need external tools to perform the keyword research--you can just do that right inside of Google's ad platform... and like all the major ad platforms, they make it sooo easy for you to spend, with automated opportunity recommendations, etc. Two major themes you should be thinking about when researching paid search as a channel for your business:

      1. How much search demand is there? Note, this can be really hard to measure or even non-existent if you're creating a new category. Ex: search volume around "pizza" might be enormous, but search volume around "robotic pizza ovens" is much smaller. Try to size the market for buy intent monthly searches that are likely to convert. When you're in the early "hand to hand" stage of business-building, don't worry too much about long tail or potentially relevant keywords.
      2. What are your funnel economics? Play out some scenarios in a spreadsheet before spending your first dollar. What are you expecting to happen realistically at each stage of the funnel starting at the click-through to your landing page, and how much is each conversion stage going to cost? (cost per click, cost per demo, etc.) You don't need to get too granular but you should have a benchmark to reference when you start buying traffic.

      Once you're past the research stage, and when/if you decide to hit go on Google Ads, it could get very expensive very fast. Broadly speaking, I wouldn't touch the channel unless I was ready to commit at least $1k or $2k per month. There's no magic sauce... it takes time.

      1. 1

        I really appreciate your thoughtful reply! Will book a session!

    1. 1

      Thanks, @fotipanagio! Glad you liked it.

  2. 1

    Great post, @okaybuilder and looking forward to connecting with you soon!

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