Startup Your Engines

Lessons in Compounding Growth from Morgan Brown


There are a myriad of things that you can learn from studying a best-in-breed company with a groundbreaking product, disruptive business model, and a blistering growth rate. And then there are the things that you can learn from studying someone who has studied all of these companies while holding office as the Head of Growth at some of the fastest growing behavioral data companies around.

That someone is Morgan Brown, the 15-year startup veteran and growth disciple, whose “teardowns” aim to analyze exactly what makes each and every successful startup story so unique. His frequent contributions to GrowthHackers.com are insightful, while his collaborations with growth godfather Sean Ellis should be required reading for practitioners everywhere.

Since joining Tradecraft, I’ve learned that the most important lessons in growth are sometimes the simplest and most easily missed. Here are just a few of my favorite lessons from the man who is rewriting the future of growth by studying the past.

Leave the Silos for Missiles and Grain

By definition, growth cannot be achieved in isolation, nor can it be driven entirely by a single-discipline team, a point that Morgan makes continuously throughout his analyses, and for good reason. In order to truly create an engine of growth, as he calls it, and one that works exponentially, engineering, product, and marketing must all be aligned. Some of the best growth “tactics,” many would argue, are products themselves, built with a specific market in mind and with the express intent of spreading like wildfire.

Play to Your Strengths Instead of Trying to Improve Your Weaknesses

No two companies have or will ever grow in exactly the same fashion. While techniques like incentivized referrals and e-mail have become common tools in any startup’s toolbox, it takes an intimate knowledge of your customers and their patterns to make the right decisions for your product and then doubling down on what’s working.

In his popular teardown of LinkedIn, Brown points to how the professional social network chose to make their homepage the centerpiece for growth rather than e-mail, a rather reliable growth channel. The reason? In 4 months of improvement, the homepage drove 13,000 net new users. E-mail? It drove 19,000 net new users…over 2 years. If one thing is certain, your story will be different.

Virality is No Accident

Behind nearly every great product phenomenon, no matter how spontaneous or accidental its success may seem, is a carefully crafted sharing strategy. From the aforementioned referrals to social media seeding to video teasers, virality can be both native to the product as well as built on top of it. Inbound marketing platform Hubspot, another of Brown’s teardown subjects, built free tools in the form of a Website Grader and Twitter Influence Grader, which naturally attracted potential Hubspot customers interested in how their sites and profiles stacked up. Once the tools reached critical mass, turning free, loyal, inbound users into paying customers became the easy part.

Your Product is an Investment. Compound its Growth.

If there’s one theme that all of the greatest growth stories, be it Dropbox, Uber, or Airbnb, have in common it’s the rarely discussed topic of “compounding” growth. We all understand that users beget more users beget more users, but few stop to understand that the reasoning behind each customer’s decision to use a new product or service will differ. For this reason, there is no “silver bullet” to driving rapid growth. Rather than looking for one, Morgan reminds us that creating ever-increasing growth requires several interlocking approaches, working in tandem, feeding each other, picking up where the last one left off, not unlike…an engine.

For more great insights, you can find them in “Growth Engines” and “Unlocking Growth” by Morgan Brown and Sean Ellis.