Spotlight on the Growth Track

Registration is now open for the sixth-annual Denver Startup Week, taking place September 25–29. With a huge schedule of events across six tracks of programming, putting together your own schedule can be daunting! To help break it all down, each week we’ll be taking a deep dive into one track with the chairs who put it together, exploring the themes and topics they’re focused on this year, and hear what events they’re most excited to see.

This week we’re delving into the Growth Track with co-chairs Alec Brewster and Nate Greenlee. For more background on Alec and Nate, check out our feature on the Founder Track (which they also co-chair) from a few weeks back.

What is your approach to putting together the schedule for the Growth Track? Do you have a particular area of focus or theme this year?

We’re big believers in the idea that sales is everyone’s job. You don’t really have a business until you have customers, and getting to the point where you’ve achieved traction is one of the biggest milestones in the life of a company.

The core of the Growth Track curriculum is learning how to find customers (through multiple channels — organic, paid, social, video, and others) and the challenges associated with scaling that process (branding, PR, culture, etc.). When we’re assembling the schedule, we try to hit the big topics in our curriculum twice, which has two major benefits. One is that we can present multiple perspectives — these topics are broad, so it’s valuable to get multiple experts to share their takes on what has and hasn’t worked well. Those different perspectives may resonate with different industries, job roles, or even learning styles. The other benefit is more practical — we tend to have more attendees per-session for the events in the Growth Track than any other track, so we want to make sure it’s still possible for attendees to learn about a particular topic even if the sessions fill up quickly.

As we mentioned in the last interview, it’s important for us to have sessions that build interest through narrative and good storytelling — to couch the tactical parts of the curriculum in high-quality presentation so it’s more effective. Increasingly, the community is looking for more advanced resources on specific topics, so we’ve tried hard this year to bring in a number of more focused sessions that go into greater depth, offering intermediate-level curriculum options. It’s just not possible to include all levels of in-depth curriculum across a range of topics in just 30–40 events and 5 days, so we want to use these sessions as a platform to make attendees aware of the resources available in the community to gain further knowledge and insight.

From a topic perspective, something we have a much greater emphasis on this year is metrics-oriented, scientific approaches to growth. The expectation in the industry is that if you’re working on growing your business, you’ll be able to do so in a methodical way that’s supported by strong methodology and good data analysis. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a shift towards sessions on higher-level strategies for customer acquisition, seems to reflect a greater level of maturity and sophistication in the practice of growth marketing. Being able to operate in a metrics-driven way is a key skill for success not just in growth, but in lots of other areas of the company. For instance, scaling leadership requires an ability to analyze and manage through data in addition to interpersonal relationships, and that’s a topic that we’re looking forward to exploring as well.

What are the “can’t-miss” sessions in the Growth Track?

Greek Guide to Startup Content: How to be a Storytelling God(dess)” (Wednesday 9/27 at 12:00pm, Turing School) and “Turd In a Punchbowl: Why Your Copy Sucks (and what you can do about it)” (Friday 9/29 at 10:00am, Spaces Co-Working) — Developing high-quality, compelling content is a key skill for any growth marketer, and each of these sessions will provide an informative take on the critical points of content development, albeit approaching the topic from very different viewpoints. The first offers a very literate approach emphasizing good content hygiene and etiquette, where the second is a more critical look at negative patterns to avoid. Both should be very informative for anyone who writes product or marketing copy!

Learning from Fortune 500s: A Collaborative Consulting Panel” (Thursday 9/28 at 2:00pm) — We’re really excited for this session — it’s a panel structured around a set of consultants from big-name firms offering practical advice to entrepreneurs based on their own experiences working with very large companies. It can be difficult (if not impossible) for early-stage companies to access this sort of deep industry and scaling expertise, so this is a great opportunity for attendees to gain insight from some very smart folks!

Your Content Marketing Playlist: From Run DMC to Journey” (Thursday 9/28 at 2:00pm, SendGrid) — The team at SendGrid runs an excellent content marketing program, and we’re excited to hear them share the recipe for their success. Plus, with a high-energy, music-themed format, it’s guaranteed to be a highly entertaining session. Definitely arrive early to get a seat for this one.

How the FBI’s Negotiation Playbook can change your growth strategy” (Wednesday 9/27 at 12:00pm) — Effectively closing partnership deals is a key skill for driving growth, but very difficult to do well. This session is a deep dive on the finer points of that process, specifically through the lessons learned in high-stakes negotiations. Complete with case studies from the FullContact team on how they’ve put those lessons into practice, this ought to be a very informative and engaging take on what can sometimes be a dry topic.

The Pros and Cons of Being a Bootstrapped Startup And How to Sustain Growth Without Taking on Outside Funding” (Wednesday 9/27 at 10:00am, Turing School) — Many entrepreneurs overlook bootstrapping or self-funding as a viable path to achieving large-scale growth, particularly in an environment where venture capital funding and large growth rounds attract a great deal of attention. This panel features some of Denver’s most notable bootstrapped success stories (Inversoft, BlogMutt, BiggerPockets, SurveyGizmo, and more) sharing the tactics they used to navigate the path to scale successfully without engaging external investment, and it should elicit some great stories and really valuable advice.

Digital Marketing Workshop” (Monday 9/25 at 4:00pm, General Assembly), “The Art and Science of Finding Customers For Your Startup” (Tuesday 9/26 at 2:00pm, SendGrid) and “Multichannel Digital Marketing — Unit Economics Deep Dive” (Tuesday 9/26 at 10:00am, Galvanize on Platte Street) — These sessions comprise a three-course series on digital marketing, roughly corresponding to introductory, intermediate, and advanced topics. The first is a survey course on the basics of digital marketing, providing an introduction to the broad landscape of channels and tools and featuring lots of case studies to illustrate concepts. The second is a more focused look at the tactics you can employ to identify your ideal customers and start building meaningful relationships with them through a variety of channels. It’s a session that we’ve had on the schedule a number of times over the years, and we consistently get feedback that it’s one of the most useful and entertaining sessions of the week — Chris Franks is really an expert in the field and a great presenter to boot. The third session is a focused deep dive into tools and tactics for optimizing your return in individual channels through the analytical lens of unit economics, featuring case studies from experts who have managed many successful large-scale campaigns. It should be very enlightening for anyone who’s looking to ramp up their marketing efforts and optimize spend across a number of different channels. Regardless of your level of digital marketing experience, these sessions will equip you with a solid arsenal of tools and tactics you can employ to kickstart or fine-tune your own efforts.

Building an Ecosystem of Success in Sports Startups” (Tuesday 9/26 at 4:00pm, Turing School) — Black Lab Sports is doing some really interesting work bridging the gap between the worlds of athletics and entrepreneurship, an specifically addressing the unique challenges inherent in starting up in that industry. This panel will be a great discussion of the dynamics in that space, featuring perspectives from athletes, entrepreneurs, and team executives. You might even recognize a few of the panelists — Justin Bannan and Jake Plummer, anyone?

Scaling Towards Profitability. (Capital Efficiency, Discipline, Scrappiness, and Winning)” (Monday 9/25 from 12:00pm — 1:30pm, Holland and Hart) — We don’t have an official Growth Track keynote event, but if we were to pick one, it’d be this panel. With a lineup full of heavy hitters, from veteran VCs to experienced operators, sharing their lessons on scaling to hyper growth and successfully navigating the inevitable obstacles along the way. it’s guaranteed to be a fantastic discussion full of valuable insight. Plan to arrive very early to get a seat — with 300 RSVPs already, this one will fill up.

Top Trends In Tech” (Tuesday 9/26 at 10:00am, Denver Place) — From AR and VR to robotics and blockchain, staying abreast of the latest technological trends is a full-time job in its own right, much less when you’re trying to run a business at the same time. This panel features a great lineup of forward-looking experts sharing their perspectives on what’s just around the corner, and the innovations that will be shaping the tech landscape for the coming years. After the main event, stick around for a networking event with like-minded future-thinkers.

Detoxing from Bad Leadership” (Wednesday 9/27 at 10:00am) — This session is a slight twist on the Growth Track theme, focusing more on the dynamics of personal and professional growth that result from difficult startup experiences. There will be some absolutely fantastic stories, with a focus on catharsis and the kinds of valuable lessons that can only be learned the hard way. We’ve done a similar format the last few years for Denver Founders Network’s Halloween “Horror Stories”, and are excited to bring the event to a larger audience.

AARP Colorado is sponsoring the Growth Track this year. How has it been working with them?

It’s been really eye-opening, actually — they’re working on an initiative to ensure that older segments of the workforce don’t get left out of everything that’s going on in the startup realm. There’s a tremendous amount that these experienced folks have to offer, and it’s part of the strength of Denver’s entrepreneurial ecosystem that we have a number of prominent entrepreneurs who have been around for a long time and have a tremendous wealth of experience that they’re willing to contribute back. Beyond that, it’s great to be able to reach out to an audience that might not otherwise be exposed to Denver Startup Week, especially given our ongoing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion across the startup ecosystem here.

Is there anything else that you really want Denver Startup Week attendees to know about the Growth Track?

As Sam Altman of Y Combinator says, “Growth solves all problems, and lack of growth is not solvable by anything but growth”. In an early-stage company, finding customers and closing sales is critical for success, and must be a part of everyone’s job. Whether you’re a founder, an engineer, a designer, a marketer, or any other role, there are lots of ways to develop a growth strategy and find customers, and we have a ton of relevant, tactical sessions that will give you both actionable knowledge and new tools that you can take back to your company and start applying immediately.