Your First 90 Day Startup Growth Plan

A How-To Plan for a Growth Practitioner’s First 90 Days

Photo Credit: Flickr

When I joined my current company as the first “Growth” hire, I came with a plan — a First 90 Day Plan: to establish an growth experimentation process, promote a growth culture, and demonstrate enough results to get buy-in from the organization, all within my first 90 days.

Now 90 days passed, how did I do?

With the plan, I did generate some good result, but most importantly, I learned a lot from implementing my first 90-day plan, which I’d like to share with growth practitioners like you.

In my last post “A Growth Practitioner’s First 90-day Plan”, I talked about why every growth practitioner needs a first 90-day plan, shared my personal story of creating and using one, and two important documents that can help you navigate the days prior to your first 90 days: The Interview Checklist to help you ask good questions during interview and find the right company to join, and The Learning Plan to help you identify critical areas to learn about the company.

Assuming you followed these steps, you nailed your interview, did your due-diligence on the employer and accepted the offer. You drafted a learning plan and already answered some questions there.

Today is your first day in your new growth role, and you are ready to rock and roll.

So… what do you do now?

The First 90-day plan is here to help you navigate through your initial period with a clear vision, focus, and path to maximize your likelihood of success. Although it shares some similarity with a regular first 90-day plan, it is geared specifically for a growth role.

Before I dive into the details, below is the high level structure of my first 90-day plan. I like to divide the First 90 days into the First week, the First month, and the First Quarter, each with a different theme.

You can download a copy here.

Growth Role: The First 90 Day Plan

First Week

Theme: get to know the tools, data, product, team & customer

# 1: Learn about tool stack
# 2: Dive into historical data
# 3: Meet with your manager/CEO
# 4: Meet with your team and collaborators
# 5: Listen to your customers

First Month

Theme: early wins and quick fix

# 1: Pick your growth metric
# 2: Identify a focus area
# 3: Launch experiments
# 4: Set up regular communication with customers
# 5: Start to fill in gaps in infrastructure/tool/data

First Quarter

Theme: holistic growth model, process & culture

#1: Create a Growth Model
#2: Build an experimentation program
#3: Choose a system of records
#4: Start a weekly growth meeting
#5: Advocate a growth culture

Your First Week in a Growth Role

Theme: get to know the tools, data, product, team, and customer

# 1: Learn about tool stack

Quickly understand what tools the company is using internally for marketing & CRM (Social, Email, Push notifications etc.), analytics, A/B testing, and project management. Expect errors and gaps.

For example, if the company has Google Analytics set up, are all events tagged correctly? Does the company have additional user behavior tracking tools such as Mixpanel or Amplitude? Do they have an A/B testing tool set up?

You want to get access to all these tools as soon as possible, play with them, and mark any gaps you need to address later.

# 2: Dive into historical data

This requires you to take a holistic look at historical data, from user acquisition, activation, retention, referral to revenue. Best case scenario, someone has already created a dashboard with all these key metrics, if not, you may need to collect numbers from multiple sources and piece them together.

For example, for a mobile app, look at installs, sign ups, activated users, engaged user, long-term retention, etc.

You want to collect all the key data points to begin to understand the situation and again identify any gap you need to fill later.

# 3: Meet with your manager/CEO

Set up a 1-hour meeting with your manager, and follow up with another one if needed. This is an important meeting for you to:

  • Get background information
  • Communicate working style
  • Discuss plans/priorities
  • Understand the process of working with engineer and design team to launch experiment

A key outcome of this meeting should be directions around where you should focus on initially to find early wins, and what is your step by step plan to get there.

# 4: Meet with your team and collaborators

This could include a series of one-on-ones, walking meetings, lunches, and coffee chats with both your collaborators and your direct report team (if there is one).

Because growth by nature requires cross-functional collaboration, you should really carve out time to get to know everyone, understand how things work today, build the relationship, and find allies.

# 5: Listen to your customers

This sometimes is hard to do in your first week depending on the nature of your business. But I came to believe that the company closest to the customers ultimately win.

Even if you can’t do a customer visit or call, you should be able to read user reviews and social media comments or find opportunities to sit in a user testing session. It is a good habit to prime yourself into in your first week.

Your First Month in a Growth Role

Theme: early wins and quick fixes

# 1: Pick your growth metric

Picking a growth goal and metric may sound self-explanatory, but in reality, many companies don’t get it right.

Let’s assume you build a note-taking app for graduate students, what should be your growth goal? Sign ups could be a good number to look at, but it mainly tracks the acquisition side of things and you could have many sign ups with very few engaged users.

What about Daily active users (DAU)? It is a lot better, but there are more nuances to that as well. Do you think your users need to use your app daily? Maybe not, graduate students usually don’t have classes every day, so maybe weekly active user (WAU) is more appropriate.

Then how to define “active”? Simple logging in doesn’t mean people are using your product the way they should be and are getting value. So in this case, do you want to define active by looking at whether they are reading notes, taking notes, doing both or something else?

The point is this: before anything, take a hard look on your growth metric first. Spend some time talking with your team and thinking through it, you want to make sure you are working on the right thing.

Photo credit: QianKu

# 2: Identify a focus area

This is the single most important task in your first month because it will directly impact your chance of securing early wins in your first 90 days. You want to use all the information you collected in the learning plan, go very deep into the data, and talk with your team, to strategically pick an area that you focus on first.

Ideally, you should be able to launch some experiments in this area with potentially big impact, low engineer and design resource requirement, and relatively high confidence that they will work.

Given that you only have 90 days, you want to avoid areas that have huge potential, but also require a large amount of work.

For example, even if you know SEO might be the biggest potential opportunity, it might be unrealistic to make any meaningful change there within your first 90 days. Therefor you want to stay away from that for now, pick low hanging fruits that are more likely to generate early wins, which can lead to a positive first impression on “growth” and “experimentation” inside the organization.

# 3: Launch experiments

Now with a focus area identified, your goal is to launch your first experiment to improve that area. This may sound easy, but it is easier said than done, especially when you just start working in a company without a previous growth team and experimentation process.

In your first month, really focus on launching just one experiment. No long term commitment from engineer team is OK, no formal process is OK, squeezing in roadmap as one-time exception is OK, just push through to launch that one test, which hopefully due to all your hard work before, will generate some positive result.

From there, everything becomes easier.

#4: Set up regular communication with customers

This is a good habit to get into, because as a growth person, you will have a lot of questions that data or A/B testing can not answer for you. Whether it is surveys, customer development calls, user community, or beta tester groups, you need to find a way to talk with your users regularly.

The more you learn about them, the better experiment ideas you can come up with to serve them.

#5: Start to fill in gaps in infrastructure/tool/data

In your first week’s data & tool checkup, it’s likely that you find some gaps: some critical user action might not be tracked, data from one system may not talk with another, a specific tool you need to perform a certain task is missing etc.

Some of the issues are easier to fix, some may take longer. But in your first month, you should know which issues are more critical and begin to form a plan around how to fix them.


Your First Quarter in a Growth Role

Theme: holistic growth model, process & culture

#1: Create a Growth Model

Between learning from your team, the data and experiments, now you should have a much better idea about your company’s growth drivers. Now you want to take a step back, try to assemble all the information you have into a more condensed growth model.

“A growth model is an equation that tells you what are the different variables in your business and how they work together and translate into growth.”

About growth model, I have written two detailed posts to show you step by step “How to build a Growth Model”, Part 1, Part 2, so I won’t go into details here. I want to highlight here that building a growth model is an iterative process, but the benefit of having one is big: it can help you understand your business, align the team, prioritize your effort, design your test, and measure the result, much more effectively.

#2: Build an experimentation program

Now that you launched your first one or few experiments, you should begin to turn that into a regular process. The process consists of two stages and six steps.

The two stages are zoom out and zoom in.

In the zoom out stage, you take a step back, by looking at your growth metric and growth model, identify a high leverage focus area you want to work on right now;

Then in the zoom in stage, you move into fast build-measure-learn iteration cycle, generate ideas, launch experiments, conduct analysis, implement the winning test and take the learning into your next test.

#3: Choose a system of records

After you establish the experimentation program, you should choose a system to host all the ideas, track experiment status, and document the results.

There are different tools you can use. Some team just use a shared Google Sheet and Google Doc, some team use Trello boards, some use their existing project management and knowledge base systems such as Jira and Confluence. If you want a all-in-one system, GrowthHackers has also developed a tool called Projects which is purpose built for growth team.

Regardless of which system you choose, the goal is the same. Each idea should be captured, each experiment should be designed with a clear hypothesis and plan, each result should be properly analyzed and documented. All of this information should be in a shared system for the entire team to learn and use.

#4: Start a weekly growth meeting

A system of records is a good way to passively sharing the knowledge, but it is also important that you start a weekly growth meeting to proactively manage and communicate about the growth process.

At GrowthHackers, we followed Sean’s framework to conduct a one-hour growth meeting every week.

Source: Sean Ellis, Building a companywide growth culture

At my current company, our growth meeting followed a simplified agenda which covers Learning, Live Tests, and Ideas, and it is a cross-functional team meeting that executives, product, marketing, data, design and customer service all join.

#5: Advocate a growth culture

Now that you have built a growth experimentation program with the right system and process in place, it is time to begin to advocate a growth culture within the company.

This can start with two simple things:

  • Communicate experiment result and learnings via emails and meetings to the whole company, so everyone is aware and can potentially use it in their own work
  • Encourage everyone to submit ideas, because everyone brings a different perspective. For example, Sales and Customer Service team are closest to the customers, Engineers are most familiar with the code and can think outside the box etc.

Growth really requires entire organization’s participation, and outstanding growth is always rooted in strong companywide growth culture.


Recap

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this post, we talked about:
  1. Why every growth practitioner needs a first 90 day plan?
  2. My story of using a first 90-day plan to transit into a new growth role
  3. Your first 90 days start prior to your 1st day
  • The Interview Checklist
  • The learning Plan

4. A Growth Practitioner’s first 90-day Plan

  • 5 things you need to do in your 1st week
  • 5 things you need to do in your 1st month
  • 5 things you need to do in your 1st quarter

I hope you can find some value in my experiments and results, and make a very successful transition into your next growth role. If you have any feedback or comments, let me know!

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