This ecommerce company is beating Warby Parker with its growth team

To say the eyewear industry is an insanely crowded market would be an understatement. Nearly $100 billion of eyewear was sold in 2015 — to put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of every person on the planet spending $14 a year on a pair of glasses.

But an upstart ecommerce eyewear company, One Click Ventures (OCV), is quickly becoming a major player in this growing market. Completely self-funded, the company has grown to 60 employees, generating millions a year in sales.

While it faces fierce competition from industry juggernauts like Luxottica who has a near monopoly on the market, as well as internet newcomer Warby Parker, it has one trick up its sleeve that it’s betting will help it beat its competitors.

It’s been quietly building a growth team to help it acquire scores of new customers.

Jon Corwin, Head of Growth

Leading this new charge is Jon Corwin, OCV’s head of growth. Corwin is helping the company find hidden pockets of new customers.

In this exclusive interview, you’ll hear the strategies and tactics OCV is using to accelerate growth.

Why you need a growth team

Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, defines startups as having one singular goal: growth.

When most people think about growth, they think of sales and marketing. But growth teams typically operate separately from those divisions within an organization using a separate set of strategies and tactics.

While most marketing is focused on executing playbooks that have already been proven to work, the growth team is responsible for experimenting and finding new tactics to acquire customers using anything at their disposal.

The growth team is responsible for finding new, hidden, and often overlooked pockets to acquire customers and grow a business that traditional marketing or sales teams can’t, or won’t, be able to.

At One Click, Corwin thinks you need a few different skillsets to make a growth team successful early on.

“My CEO has been asking me, ‘what do the core competencies look like for someone to champion growth?’ It’s a hard question to answer. In any given day I might lean more on the product side, or more toward a generalist digital marketer. I tend to think it’s a little bit of both all the time. It’s probably not going to be any one person, and it probably shouldn’t be any one person. It requires a mix of disciplines to execute on growth.”

This might mean that the growth team works with the engineering team to build in features that increase virality of the product, working with support or retention teams to help trial customers convert into paid customers, or even working with the core marketing team to launch new marketing campaigns or design stickier products.

“Within a larger organization if you’re going to make the investment in growth, you need a marketing minded product person, engineering resources, and someone that can execute on design. Those 3 alone, you can execute on a vast majority of tactics, but you’ve got to give them room to execute and potentially fail along the way.”

The growth team is a unique blend of left- and right-brained skillsets. You need to be creative to come up with out-of-the-box ideas to get in front of customers, but also be analytical, looking at lots of different data points to see what’s working and what isn’t.

Build a growth mindset into your company from the beginning

Early on in your company’s life, it’s impossible to know which channels or tactics will help drive adoption of your product.

Should you invest in content marketing? Or paid advertising? Should you strike business development deals or start with a sales team?

These questions are hard to answer because in an early-stage company, so much is in flux. The product, the customers, the market, and messaging are all constantly changing as you work to nail down the perfect mix.

Having a growth and experimentation mindset during this phase of uncertainty is paramount. You must test many different ideas to see what resonates.

“What I’ve shared with our CEO is we should view growth as a validation engine.”
“We want to get a signal for traction and validate that there’s an opportunity or tactic we can use to grow. Once we’re able to prove the ability to hit a target new customer acquisition cost range that’s palatable, we pass off the initiative to other teams internally and immediately shift our focus to validating other new opportunities.”

The name of the game is speed, agility, and delegation.

“For brands, especially in consumer and ecommerce, you can get leapfrogged within a quarter if you’re caught flat-footed. If we’re not testing 10 new things, we’ll die. It’s not in our best interest to keep a lot of these experiments lifelined to us.”

As the company grows and scales, channels and tactics that worked really well at the start may stop producing results. If an experimentation mindset is built into the DNA of the company from the start, you can hedge your marketing bets and not fall victim to stalled growth by being dependent on a single channel that might stop working.

Kickstarting growth

When thinking about building a growth team, it’s important to define what that team is, and is not, responsible for.

Start by setting goals for the team, and provide the resources, authority, and autonomy they need to execute on their own.

Then, define what the team won’t do and make sure leadership agrees. It’s easy for the growth team’s responsibilities to start bleeding into everyday marketing execution activities but it’s important to keep a distinct line between the two.

In Corwin’s case, his team’s mandate was simple: drive sales from new customers.

Corwin was tasked with leading and building the growth discipline into the organization. He and One Click’s CEO, Randy Stocklin, agreed on an annual budget for Corwin to deploy with the understanding that the team had to return 150% of that investment back in revenue.

As Corwin explains, “It started as a team of one, but still formally within the marketing department. I was roving between marketing and engineering to connect dots, find friction points, and solve them. The edict was, ‘based on your budget, we would like to see a 1.5x return.’ Short of robbing a bank, no tactics were off the table. It was more like here’s the budget, deploy it how you see fit. Some of that was having access to engineering resources to assist in building MVPs for features quickly. But the budget was open for anything. It is seen largely as a marketing expense that can be used for off-the-shelf software, ad spend, or product development. Anything we believe will spur growth.”

There’s a balance, too, of deciding when to stop investing in something that isn’t working, or when to tweak it to see if a small change will have an impact.

“Some things you need a little bit of runway, to pivot and iterate a few times before you really make that call. That’s candidly what I’m struggling with the most is when something is kind of working and it’s kind of not and there’s other areas that I think we should move into, do we keep pushing down that channel, or do we push it off.”

Running growth experiments

The key to growth is experimentation.

Just like when you build a new product, you must search for a fit between what the market needs and what the product does, the same goes for growth. You must search for a fit between what simply works and what works but also scales.

You must be creative, analytical, strategic, and tactical all the time. Generating many experiments, implementing them quickly, and gathering data that helps tell the story for what will work is an exhilarating but challenging process.

Experimentation inherently means that some things will ultimately fail, and that’s okay. Iterating quickly to find big winners in a sea of failing experiments is the name of the game.

“I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as a truly failed experiment as long as you learn something. Deployment of funds is part of what we have to do to validate new opportunities.
Looking at last year and the list of 120 experiments we ran, and the 100 that did not get leveled up to our marketing team, I’m not viewing any of those as ‘never again.’ There are some that were just not a great fit that I’ll put on a ‘no opportunity’ tab and pretty much lay those to rest.”

That doesn’t mean that failed experiments are forgotten forever. It’s a good idea to look back and recycle failed experiments, testing ideas in new ways.

“There’s some that I’ll put into a deferred bucket, that weren’t compelling on the surface relative to other things we could be working on, so I put them on the backburner to be revisited. We will often work with our business intelligence team to look at previous initiatives to poke holes in the assumptions we made so we can test again. We’re definitely retesting some of those.”

Generating experiment ideas

Corwin finds inspiration for experiments anywhere he can find them.

“Visiting sites like Product Hunt or has become daily practice. I’m constantly prospecting for any new shiny objects that we should play with. When I find something, I’ll add it to a backlog of our ideas.”

Corwin also solicits ideas from his team.

“We have set up a process and asked the entire team ‘if you have any idea, or any growth experiment or something you think is worth solving, let us know. Don’t think too much about spend, or implications, or how hard it might be to execute. Leave preconceived notions aside and just tell us what you think.’ And people speak up!
For example, our business intelligence team submitted a ticket that was ‘we know our live chat feature is super handy, but we should try to chat with people when they are searching for something and they get an empty search result or we’re not returning the product they’re looking for. There’s a huge exit rate there, and we think if we could hold their hand, maybe they’re just not searching for the right thing.’ We built out a proactive chat feature to fire chat only when there’s no search results, and the chat says ‘Hey looks like you’re looking for something but you’re having trouble finding it. Can we help?’ It’s been a small but effective win for us.”

With 100+ experiment ideas in the backlog, the growth team must also prioritize what to test and when.

They adopted a scoring system popularized by Sean Ellis of called the ICE score:

  1. Impact — How well do we think this experiment will perform?
  2. Confidence — How certain are we that we’ll get the results we’re hoping for?
  3. Ease — How difficult will the experiment be to implement?
“We built out columns and a scoring matrix with each factor in a column, giving a score of 1–10 based purely on gut feel, and they’re all scored relative to each other. I’ll go through at least once a month and make sure as new things come in, they’re scored, and everything is still held to the same standard. Everything that’s scored the highest, we’ll prioritize.”
“Some of those are big opportunities, and some are small, quick wins. If we know a big opportunity is going to take a month to get out the door, we make that our title project and then pad in around it five or six other opportunities. We want to show progress. We don’t want a 30-day flat spot where our CEO says ‘what did the growth team do all month?’”

You don’t need a fancy tool to manage experiments. A simple spreadsheet is all they use. As they gather data, they’ll report their progress directly on the spreadsheet.

Setting an initial budget and measuring performance

When you’re just getting started with growth, it’s difficult to estimate how much to invest. But you can get started with a small budget and increase over time as you start to see results.

“I don’t think it would take a lot. There are many channels that you can, with $200-$500, get a good read on whether the channel is worth your time.
At One Click, we’re investing roughly 25%+ of our marketing budget into growth. In the second year, our budget quadrupled so we’re upping the ante for success and the bar for success is higher. ”

Once you start an experiment, a good way to measure performance is closely monitoring how your cost per acquisition (CPA) is trending.

“There will be a natural period where we’ll pause and look at that initial test, where is CPA trending and identify if there’s something interesting we can tweak and double down on in the experiment.”

Once your CPA is sitting at a consistent rate, you have a good understanding of whether the experiment will produce a positive return and whether it continues to make sense to invest in the tactic or not.

“We want to see if we can get the CPA to stabilize, and once we see that it’s not moving too much, we then promote the experiment on to the marketing team, explaining the experiment and the model we’ve put together for them to add it into our normal marketing portfolio and workflow.”