Growth isn’t magic ✨

There seems to be a mystique about startup growth.

I’ve met plenty of founders who are seeking the secret sauce for scaling their startup idea.

I’ve also met bystanders who look in from the outside and think it just happens.

In both cases, it’s as if there’s a magic formula that only some people are lucky enough to hold.

Growth isn’t easy

The reality, as anyone who’s ever tried it knows, is that it’s really, really hard.

It should be easier. Your idea’s great. You believe in it. Your friends and family do too. So do your earliest users or customers.

There’s no shortage of article sharing the latest growth hacking 101s, or the fast track to startup success.

But they’re generic and your company is unique. They might give you a boost, but they don’t always work long term.

Not that the bystanders realise that. They think it just happens in the same way it did with all those others.

Growth isn’t a separate strategy

Some founders think their idea is so amazing that people will just find it and want it.

Others build their product and think about growth afterwards, as if it’s something for the marketers to figure out.

Or they focus on their revenue channels, forgetting that customers and users are more often than not different people with different needs.

Even worse, they forget their users are unique humans. They treat them all the same, and get confused when one person uses their product, but another very different individual doesn’t.

Our approach with Kahoot! was to treat growth as a mindset that informed all our decisions. Not as a separate strategy.

Growing Kahoot!

People are often fascinated to hear that we grew Kahoot! to reach 50 million people every month without a dedicated marketing team for the first 4 years.

The assumption from some is that we had the magic formula. Or from others that we were lucky. The reality is we looked at growth holistically across the organisation.

We treated growth as growth in every sense of the word. Not just big numbers. And not something that’s the responsibility of a marketing department.

Growth was at the heart of our culture, stemming from our mission.

We focused on inclusivity and creating profound individual impact — the accumulation of which led to growth — enabling us to build a brand, product and culture people wanted to be part of and wanted to tell people about.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to growth, it’s a mindset

Growth, of course, means different things to different companies, depending on your products and business models.

I believe that having the right philosophy is the key to unlocking it:

1. Summon all the grit you have

Entrepreneurship is about making things happen. Anyone can have an idea, but great entrepreneurs bring ideas to life.

They have a vision and bring everyone along for the ride. They focus on execution, on how the idea will be realised.

Grit is about determination, willpower and leadership. It’s about making smart decisions under tough constraints. Without grit, giving up is easy. People won’t believe in your idea. And growth won’t happen.

The bystanders are right too, luck can definitely play a part. But you make your own luck. Stick with it.


2. Think about growth holistically, not as a separate strategy

Growth isn’t just about artificially boosting your numbers with short-term wins, it’s about creating long term sustainability.

Sustainability should come from how you continuously impact people. Which comes from your mission. Which should inform your culture. Which should empower everyone to make decisions that contribute to how you grow.

Those decision, from macro to micro, should be made day-to-day across every function in the business, not just as a marketing activity.

Because those decisions accumulate and dictate how much value you’re delivering to as wide an audience as possible, throughout your entire brand experience. And in turn they dictate whether people would recommend you to others — where growth happens.


3. Always be user-centric

The end user is often neglected because they’re not always the customer or enabler for growth. However, they’re the ones whose lives you’re improving through your products. Without them, you have nothing.

Understand them as the unique individuals they are, beyond when they’re using your products too, and aim to create profound impact on them.

Make your products inclusive. Don’t just put users into boxes by demographics or product-aligned roles, but understand behavioural and motivational nuances. Design to satisfy the intrinsic needs of as wide an audience as possible.

Make your products accessible. Think about how they fit into your user’s lives, where they discover and use them and constantly remove barriers making them easier to adopt.

Make your products desirable. Create emotional connections with your users, bring joy to them and reward them internally rather than superficially.

If you focus on constantly improving the core value of your experience, loyalty will grow, and users will tell others — organic growth starts there.

And remember, your experience extends beyond your products to support, community engagement and other brand touchpoints.


By adopting these philosophies, it will become easier to establish a culture for growth within your startup. Everyone will be focused on improving the lives of your audience.

There will of course always be more specific strategies to boost growth and increase community engagement. These will flourish on top of a foundation created by having the right mindset, where real, organic, sustainable growth comes from.

My challenge to you

You may think you know your startup well enough, or this approach may seem trivial. But I’m pretty certain some things will surprise you. Take 15 minutes to:

  • Write down your startup’s mission. If you can… identify which part of it relates to individual impact, and which part relates to growth.
  • Identify who your end user is. This should be the person your mission has set out to impact.
  • Identify (if anyone) who enables the experience for them. Often the end user isn’t where your point of acquisition is, instead someone else is the gatekeeper for their experience.
  • And finally, write down who pays for it. Again, this isn’t always the same person.
  • Estimate how much of your company’s time is spent on (1) the end user, (2) the enabler and (3) the customer. Do you feel you’ve got the split correct in order to establish real impact that could lead to growth? What could change?

Good luck, and please share any surprises or thoughts that come up in the comments below.


If you’ve got this far… thank you for reading! I’m only just starting out on Medium. Over the coming months I’ll be expanding on the themes in this article, sharing more practical tips and examples we took when growing Kahoot!.

I would hugely appreciate some claps 👏 and shares 🙌 so that others can find it!


We Are Human creates purpose driven organisations striving for social and commercial impact. We co-founded and incubated Kahoot!, “the world’s fastest growing learning brand”, launched in August 2013. By May 2017, we had scaled Kahoot! to reach 50 million people around the world every month, along with our co-founders and a highly dedicated team.

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