Growth Marketing at Start-ups Can Be Like Directing a Train Station in Mumbai… But Does it Have to?

I’ve never had the life-altering experience of being at a train station in India but we can all imagine how chaotic it can be. Just a few months ago, a 15 minute train delay at a station in Mumbai led to a riot. With one train arriving every 4 minutes carrying 5,000 passengers each, the delay caused thousands of people to be stuck at their station along the entire route. Combine that with the lack of efficient infrastructure and you get a commuter rage lasting for 6 hours.

Start-ups are just like train stations in India. They are chaotic. Many unexpected things can happen without any notice. You have everyone else competing with you to get aboard a train. It’s tough! And not many people survive to tell their story.

Now imagine on top of that, you are the manager in charge of getting people to their train. Problem is you never know the actual time of when trains arrive. And when they do, they don’t always arrive at the right platform. When that happens, you get many people on the wrong train or utter chaos as thousands of people rush from one platform to another. At some point, you adopt a come-what-may attitude and consider whoever gets on the right train as the lucky ones.

For many growth marketer at a start-up, it can feel like being this train passenger router. The tools are constantly changing and tactics that work one day, won’t necessary work the next day, all while working under chaotic settings. You’d run multiple campaigns and gather a bunch of data but they would all start to get mumbo jumboed. You’d lose track of what succeeded and what failed. It does not, however, have to be this way. Having an effective growth framework and process can bring order to your growth marketing efforts, lead to more insightful data and zen.

Let’s explore two growth frameworks, starting with the Bullseye Framework from the Traction Book by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares.

Bullseye Framework: Ideal for Lean Startups

For lean start-ups with limited resources, the Bullseye Framework is ideal for testing your growth marketing assumptions.

Using Bullseye to find your channel is a five-step process: brainstorm, rank, prioritize, test, and focus on what works. Rinse, repeat.

  1. Brainstorm reasonable ways to use each traction channels. You would want to do this to avoid any channel biases.
  2. Rank the channels. After your brainstorm, rank them under the appropriate label based on your current assumptions: A. Inner Circle B. Promising C. Long-shot.
  3. Prioritize. Pick 2–3 to focus on so you can run concurrent experiments. This helps you save time as you won’t have to wait to test another hypothesis.
  4. Test. Run series of cheap tests to answer questions, such as: Cost to acquire customer with the channel? Number of customers per each channel? The right customers you want now?
    The main point of this stage is efficacy in getting data and proving out assumptions you might have had.
  5. Focusing. Your test ultimately should lead to one channel that produced the most promising results. Once that one is identify, direct traction effort to that one channel. The goal is to squeeze as much out of this one channel by uncovering effective tactics and scaling them until they are no longer effective.

Repeat this process if no channel seems promising after testing.

By following the Bullseye Framework, you can allocate your limited resources to the channel that can give you the most return and have a formalized way to keep track of what worked and what did not.

Brian Balfour’s Framework: Ideal for Meatier Start-ups

If your growth team consist of more than just one person and has the capacity and resource to test though, Brian Balfour’s (VP of Growth at Hubspot) framework might be a better fit.

If you have the time, you should check out Brian’s awesome presentation on his framework. If not, here is a quick run-down of his growth framework:

Know where you are going first by defining your goal, which includes your objective, time-frame and measurable metrics. Then follow these steps:

  1. Brainstorm for growth ideas by observing, questioning, associating, and/or networking. Select a couple of ideas and enter them into a backlog.
  2. Prioritize: Be honest about the selected ideas’ : 1. probability of success 2. impact if successful 3. available resources. Based on your brainstorm ideas, create a hypothesis for each and then justify your assumptions using the qualitative, quantitative and secondary data that is available to you. Then create an experimental doc.
  3. Test: Identify minimum viable test to test your hypothesis and then write the experiment designs in the experimental doc. Make sure to keep track of the variable you are testing for to avoid having to repeat tests.
  4. Implement your ideas as fast as possible.
  5. Analyze. This is the most important step. At this stage, you want to identify the results, the accuracy and why your experiment succeeded or not. Log what you have learned from the experiment and action items on the experimental doc.
  6. Systemize what you have identified to be successful so others can learn from your results.

There is no one right or perfect growth process. The important part is just to have one, stick to it, and improve it over time.

These are just two examples of growth frameworks that have worked and many growth marketers choose to follow others that work for them.

According to Brian Balfour though, every growth process should have some key elements:

1. A way to set big goals against the areas that impact your growth the most
2. A structured way to continually come up with growth ideas and experiments
3. A way to prioritize those experiments
4. A way to efficiently design those experiments
5. Analysis of every experiment whether it succeeded or failed
6. Sharing of learnings across team and implementing them back into the experiment list.

By following a growth framework, your chaotic environment won’t change; you’d still be in a chaotic train station (aka your start-up). However, it should be easier to manage the crowd. At the end of the day, you’d be a hero for getting all the passengers in the right train and on time and sleep well knowing that you have a logical approach to manage all your data-driven growth marketing activities.