Traction’s Guide to Growth

Launch Academy
Nov 5, 2018 · 13 min read
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Growth is the number one goal for most companies, whether they’re startups, corporations, or SMBs. But it’s also the number one challenge.

Companies have gone to great lengths to try to create growth and generate growth ideas: hacks, consultants, unorthodox tactics, mastermind groups, workshops, and more.

Yet sustainable growth still eludes most companies — just ask the thousands of startups who aren’t able to make it past infancy.

But growth isn’t a mythical creature. There are companies and growth professionals who have been able to grow organizations in a sustainable and repeatable manner. We were lucky enough to hear them speak at Traction Conference in Vancouver this past August, and we’ve assembled some of their valuable advice in this article.

Below, you’re going to read insights from Traction speakers David Mausolf and Max Lytvyn on how to grow effectively while maintaining (and even doubling down on) company culture. They covered:

  • Setting up a growth framework
  • Identifying growth leadership types
  • Defining ideal growth teams
  • Knowing growth tactics
  • Maintaining culture as you scale up

All of which we’ll cover in this article!

Our first words of wisdom come from David Mausolf, VP of Acquisitions and Marketing for 20th Century Fox. His advice centres on setting up your growth team to scale. The first order of business?

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Set-up Your Growth Framework

When someone asks you what areas of the business are most important to growth, it’s tempting to either answer “everywhere!” or “whatever they’re doing.”

But the real answer depends a great deal on your own operations and your understanding of the customer’s needs.

That’s the key to the whole operation. You’re trying to build a business that will solve a specific need for a specific person. Build a story around this customer: why does he have that need and why does it need to be solved? What else about him makes him behave the way he does?

(You should have already defined this before launching the product, but it’s never too late.)

Once you have the customer story figured out, take a look at your own operations and uncover what areas of the business would have the most beneficial customer impact if improved. Harvard Business Review refers to this as the “hierarchy of purpose.”

Hierarchy of Purpose is a framework that companies can use to prioritize projects that have the biggest and most beneficial impact across the organization — in the direction they want to go. It considers strategic goals and organizational vision first, then determines a project’s priority relative to said vision and goals. Essentially, only take on projects that align with your goals, vision, and current priorities.

David shared that, during his time with Lyft, his team developed a multi-step framework that began with recruiting more drivers. They reasoned that more drivers would result in lower wait times, which would make things more convenient for passengers and encourage them to use Lyft more. With more use, Lyft could then pay its drivers higher rates. Lyft could then use the higher rates to recruit more drivers.

Lyft’s single initial growth strategy (recruit more drivers) started a chain reaction of customer-centric benefits that turned into a reliable and repeatable growth framework. You can also use this narrow and targeted approach to maximize results while using limited resources.

Identify your Growth Leader Type

Many companies search for a growth leader that can do everything, or think that a growth leader who performs in one industry/market can easily adapt into another. In truth, growth leaders come with wildly different personalities. But it’s hard to tell at a glance whether that personality is a fit for you.

“There’s no one single type of growth leader you can hire for your company,” David stresses, “It’s really based on where you fit within the marketplace.” There are multiple ways to grow a company, from acquisitions to market penetration to product expansion, and you will rarely encounter a growth leader who is good at all of them.

Growth leaders are just like other employees: they each have their strengths and weaknesses. Examine the framework you developed in the previous step and determine what combination of skills and experience are appropriate for your unique situation. Then compare the traits of the growth candidate. Can they thrive in your organization?

More importantly, can they make you thrive?

Define the Ideal Growth Team

Traditional companies have growth teams segregated by general skill set: engineering, marketing, analytics, and product. But instead of fostering cooperation, it breeds rivalry and blame-casting.

At Fox, David set up organizational teams or “pods” based on Functional Areas of Growth such as Acquisition and Lifecycle. Each pod had its own collection of specialists such as a data scientist, designer, marketer, and analyst. Their assembled expertise would be able to cover most of the needs this pod would encounter. These pods would then work as an independent unit within their assigned functional area.

The end result is that David had multiple teams: each focused on a specific area of growth, with the independence and initiative necessary to pursue the most effective growth tactics without being bogged down by resource restrictions or red tape.

Your growth organization might not have the size of breadth of skill as David’s team does, but you can still follow David’s approach: Create small, elite teams that work well with each other in their defined areas of expertise. If you don’t have the manpower to create many small teams, then create a team that has a mix of diverse skills so that all of your manpower can be kept close, instead of having to borrow resources from other departments.

The advantage of this approach is that it allows freer flow of information between team members of different disciplines. Because the analyst is on the same team as the data scientist, for example, there is a better coordination of effort. This, in turn, allows the growth team to respond quickly to changes in the market.

Growth projects are accomplished faster and the teams are able to build a deep working knowledge of a specific growth area that will lead to better insights and more ideas.

Know your growth tactics

The trend should be pretty obvious by now: don’t get caught up in shiny-object syndrome when it comes to the various growth tactics. There are many growth tactics to choose from, but you don’t have to be good at all of them (not yet). Your growth plan should instead utilize tactics that make the most sense to your business.

Calculate the value of your customers and compare that to the CPA of each marketing channel. As you do so, David emphasizes that your numbers for each channel should be up to date. “Traditional channels like TV are shrinking, while channels like Facebook are becoming more expensive and more difficult,” David shared.

Always get the freshest information on what growth channels offer and cost. Don’t make assumptions just because you have prior experience, because that experience might already be out of date. The cost of AdWords and Facebook advertising is a very relevant example, with paid ad costs being far above what they were ten or even five years ago.

Your growth team also has to keep abreast of new growth tactics and technologies. Traditional marketers, for example, viewed social media and digital marketing with heavy skepticism early in their development. Now, digital marketers have taken up most of the heavy lifting, even in companies that are over a hundred years old. Influencer marketing, AR, chatbots, and machine learning are just some of the new developments that growth marketers will have to learn and master if they don’t want to be left behind.

Remember to scale

Ironically, growth only gets harder the more you succeed. There’ll be more channels to grow into, more customers to reach, and more demands on your team’s time. Your primary challenge is now keeping up with demand while keeping your team as lean and efficient as possible.

So how can your team scale to keep up with business demands?

David recommends building a small, elite team of experts with a diverse set of core technical skills.

Unskilled marketing roles that require lots of menial labour are no longer necessary (and are even detrimental) in such a high-speed environment. Non-core skills can be dropped in favour of automation tools. But choosing the right automation tool matters just as much as picking the right team member.

You have two options: either get a holistic software solution that encompasses most marketing/growth functions into one application or build a tech stack of highly specialized software solutions that are connected via custom APIs. There are advantages to either approach.

A holistic solution means that everything you need will be in one place: it will be simpler for data to flow between the different applications. You’ll only need to learn and manage one tool. It may also work out to be more affordable since you’re only paying for one tool and not multiple solutions.

A diverse tech stack full of specialized software, on the other hand, gives you more advanced controls and capabilities that the holistic solution’s bundled features may not match. Also, it’s easier to swap out individual software tools when something newer or better comes along, as opposed to being stuck using all the bundled tools together.

A Question of Culture

Growth isn’t just about developing the business or your operations: if that were true, then businesses could hire just about anybody and still succeed.

A good growth strategy cultivates a positive working culture. You want to create an environment where employees want to go to work; where they will thrive and are driven to do their best because they believe in what you do — not because they’re paid to do it.

The challenge is that culture is both easily influenced and difficult to change.

Employees tend to ape the behaviour of their leaders. For better or worse, leadership behaviour is contagious across the team. A leader who goes into work late is telling his employees that it’s ok to work late as well. A leader who treats customers poorly tells employees that customers take second place to profits.

On the other hand, you have institutional behaviour that is so ingrained in the company culture that it can take an outside expert to facilitate change.

Max Lytvyn, the Founder of Grammarly, knows this very well. He’s taken great pains to ensure that Grammarly still carries the same corporate culture he started with when it was just a pet project to its current status as a multi-million dollar tech industry darling.

The Importance of Values

Max did this by creating a solid mission and a set of desirable values. Other companies do this too, of course. But either make it too bland, too cult-ish, or don’t do it at all.

Max began with Grammarly’s values.

“Values,” Max explains, “are what you consider good and right.” They’re what support and carry you through all of your everyday work and major business decisions.

According to Max, two employees with different values won’t be able to work well together because they won’t always be able to support (or even understand) each other’s opinions or effectively predict each other’s actions, which hampers teamwork.

When you assemble your list of values, make sure you keep the following considerations in mind:

  1. Values have to be short. Your list of values is a collection of filters. A person who doesn’t meet a certain value is not someone you want to work with. Same thing with certain actions you want your employees to take. If you put too many filters, nobody will be able to get past all of them. The team gets stuck and they can’t grow.
  2. Values have to be memorable. People have to be able to remember them easily if they’re going to use them in everyday situations. It helps to make an acronym, like what Grammarly did, but you don’t have to. Make it punchy, make it memorable, and people will remember.
  3. Values have to align with the mission. If you’re going to promote desirable behaviour, make sure that behaviour is bringing you to your overall company goal. Values that don’t align with your mission are counter-productive and will frustrate employees or, even worse, make them indifferent.
  4. Values have to be stable. Consistent values encourage compliance, while inconsistent values confuse people and foster bad behaviour. The values are the bedrock principles upon which your team should base their actions, so if people are unsure about what to do, they will inevitably make the wrong decision.

Grammarly’s own values exemplify the above requirements. They use the acronym EAGER, which stands for Ethical, Adaptable, Gritty, Empathetic, and Remarkable. “We didn’t just make it up,” Max shared. “We realized that organizational values represent the people within the organization. So we asked the team ‘what values do you share as people?” So the values Grammarly holds are those that their entire team believes in and supports.

The EAGER acronym is easy to remember and aligns well with their mission statement of “improving lives by improving communication.” Because the values are so top of mind, Grammarly employees refer to it when making decisions. So values have a real impact on the business.

Setting the Mission

Most company mission statements are vague and sweeping, and aspire to too much. They don’t motivate employees at all because they’re as generic as wallpaper, and just as interesting.

Grammarly’s mission statement (“improving lives by improving communication”) was developed because they felt that their product, which helped people write better, would improve people’s lives by helping them get positive life results.

“We improve communication in a way that matters to people,” Max says. “We improve communication in a way that makes them more successful, makes them more connected, makes them accomplish their goals, and so on.”

To get this mission statement, the Grammarly team had keep in mind several important qualities, which Max shared in a Traction presentation:

  1. The mission has to be sufficiently specific. If you try to please everybody, you please nobody. The very definition of “mission” means trying to accomplish a narrow set of goals. Everyone has to know what and who exactly you’re talking about. In the case of Grammarly, they narrow their focus to what their product can do for people (communicate better).
  2. The mission has to be practical. Your team won’t be able to help you accomplish the mission if there’s no human way of accomplishing it. Ephemeral goals like “end world hunger” are good for press releases, but good luck trying to get it done! Practical mission statements can be more motivating for employees because they are achievable and within their control.
  3. The mission has to be continuous. There is no pause or stopping point in your journey to excellence, and therefore the mission has to be valid no matter what stage your company is in. Short-term binary missions (ie. done, not done) make it difficult to leverage for long-term progress. Continuous missions can even be measured with metrics, such as user engagement.
  4. The mission must be evergreen. Fixed-period missions don’t work, because you’ll have to come up with a new mission every several years. An ideal mission will be just as relevant today as it will be thirty years into the company’s future. It is something the company can constantly shoot for and improve upon.
  5. The mission must be inspiring. The mission has to be able to drive people to go above and beyond their usual behavior. To inspire is to make one feel better about themselves and their work. If it’s not something they can be proud of, it’s not a good mission.

Defining the Vision

Now that you’ve got both the values and the mission in place, you’re in the ideal position to drive your vision.

Max defines the vision of Grammarly as, “How we see ourselves and the world around us at some point in the future.” This future state should, ideally, be a direct result of accomplishing the company’s mission while maintaining the company’s values.

If your company has a strong vision at the core of its culture and purpose, then employees are more likely to buy into it and adopt its core values into their everyday actions. It motivates them to work for the company’s good because they know and believe that the company is driven by more than just profit.

A vision also acts as a filter to weed out those who don’t share your excitement, be they investors, employees, or customers.

In Review

The keys to scaling up effectively are:

  • Identifying your growth framework
  • Finding your ideal growth leader
  • Assembling the right growth team
  • Choosing the right growth tactics
  • Creating a sustainable and scalable growth plan

All of those elements have to be in place in order to scale the team the right way. Your budget will affect the size of your team, the tactics you choose, and the software tools you utilize, but it shouldn’t affect the need for elite groups of well-rounded individuals with flawless work ethic.

But growth takes more than practical considerations into account. Cultural considerations are a part of growing your team too. You need an inspirational vision supported by a realistic mission and strong values. These will help you maintain your company culture as you scale up and stay the course, no matter what growth tactics and technology you employ.

Traction Conf is an annual growth conference presented by Boast Capital and Launch Academy. Traction Conf brings actionable strategies and tactics for supercharging growth, straight from founders and leaders of some of the fastest growing companies like Google, Twentieth Century Fox, Reddit, LinkedIn, Slack, Trello, Github, New Relic, Box, SendGrid, Grammarly, Bumble and much more.

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