Building products for growth

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Growth Engines by Seth Ellis

Product managers can learn a lot from growth marketers. Growth teams can be part of product teams and modify the product to increase growth. Although some growth tactics are specific to outbound marketing, many are directly tied to the product.

Startup Growth Engines by Seth Ellis, Morgan Brown, and TheGrowthHackers.com team

Startup Growth Engines is a collection of blog posts from growthhackers.com. The book includes case studies of GitHub, LinkedIn, HubSpot, Evernote, Square, and Uber. It’s essentially a catalog of business strategies, value propositions, and growth strategies from successful high tech companies. Several themes are highlighted that are difficult to replicate: a great product and powerful word of mouth. It’s a quick read to get concise views of business models and value propositions.

GitHub benefits from the network effects of their repository which grows in value as more contributors add code. Additionally, the available code attracts people who are looking for open source code for their products and services. Like LinkedIn, GitHub uses a freemium model with higher tier paid subscriptions. The GitHub business model was apparently based on direct customer requests for private repositories. The authors note that “in this case, the freemium model doesn’t cannibalize the paid plans, as the use cases are completely different. The avoids the common issues that plague freemium businesses where no compelling reason to upgrade exists.”

The LinkedIn case study has an important insights on growth from Elliot Shmukler

It is easier to get an active user to do a lot more than to get an inactive user to do anything

This is important for product managers as they decide whether to invest in retaining and increasing engagement of active users or attempting to entice inactive users back to the product.

There are a lot of great growth talks on YouTube which include topics relevant for product teams–customer growth is tied directly to product onboarding, features, and user experience:

The five growth mindsets

In this presentation about “speaking growth” to users, James Currier  outlines five principles for leading effective growth: focus on the psychology of the user, language first / features second, growth is never done, love your data enough, build a culture of growth. He starts by observing that “behind every interesting consumer internet company is a powerful insight about human psychology” and asks “what is your thing to them?” He advises to ask your users: “what do you tell your friend it is?” This starts you down the path of understanding how your users look at your product or service and how it fits into their lives. He continues this theme in the second mindset and advises not to “build features and then put language on [them]”. Language is important and naming can make the difference between drawing users in and turning them away. Currier asks “how great is your daily email?” when discussing loving your data and gives advice on how to build a culture of growth within your organization.

Experimentation and learning

Brian Balfour gives a detailed rundown of how to create a process around growth experiments in the video below. He says that although acquisition channels are changing, its always worth investing in a scalable, predictable, and repeatable growth machine. He talks in detail about how his teams set goals, manage documentation around experiments, and optimize. His overview of the typical week on a growth team should resonate with product managers who want to ship features that impact metrics and institutionalize learning and experimentation. Balfour’s overall process of brainstorm, prioritize, test, implement, analyze, and systematize is a great model for product managers who are not necessarily on growth teams to follow. He uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to set goals and manages knowledge about growth in four key documents.

The Laws of Growth

George Lee, former head of growth at Instagram presents the three Laws of Growth in the video below: intentionality, awareness, and consistency.

The Law of Intentionality advises us “don’t grow until you have product/market fit or can scale”, have the Head of Growth report to the CEO, and set goals but be clear on which segment of your audience you are working with. Lee points out that the growth team does not focus on highly engaged active users; rather, they focus on people who have never used the product, those who are new to the product, the group that uses the product only slightly, and people who have used the product at one point but no longer use it.

The Law of Awareness includes always including counter metrics, “fix forward”, and blend quantitative and qualitative methods. “Fix forward” means the growth team embracing the evolution of the base product and optimizing for future states because “if the main product never evolves again, growth with stop at some point in time.”

The Law of Consistency includes planning recommendations. Lee describes the instagram growth roadmap process: three roadmaps per 6 months with 2 weeks of planning and 6 weeks of execution per roadmap. He also explains how growth roadmaps should support roadmaps and plans from the research and analytics teams. Finally, he gives an example of the emotional roller-coaster ride the instagram growth team experienced over the course of the year and says “keep calm and carry on.”

More on growth


Growth Engines is a selections of blog posts from growthhackers.com. Most can be found at https://growthhackers.com/growth-studies. The case studies are concise and interesting enough to keep you reading. There are some common themes highlighted across the businesses, but mostly each company is portrayed as unique and choosing its own strategy and approach.

This is a good book for inspiration by highlighting the value propositions and strategies of successful businesses with a focus on common drivers of growth: offering a great product, virality, event sponsorship, partner networks, a fremium business model, network effects, and word of mouth.

There aren’t many details or behind-the-scenes looks, just what you’ll find in mainstream reporting of these companies. The authors present public information and concede that there is interpretation involved in their analysis. There is no overall growth framework or recipe in the book; rather, each individual author points out what elements made the business successful and gives a brief history of each.

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