Key to Sustaining Rapid Growth


After helping to bring several startups to market including Dropbox, LogMeIn and Lookout, I found that the key to sustaining rapid growth is understanding your “must have” experience and then aligning the entire business around that experience. This includes aligning the product roadmap, funnel optimization, and messaging.

Process for Uncovering Your Must Have Experience

With each new startup, I immediately started working to uncover the “must have” experience before I formed preconceptions about how and why a product would be useful.  This involved a rigorous process for identifying the most passionate users and then getting their unstructured feedback about how they were getting value.  With each new cohort of users that I engaged, I began to get more structured feedback to converge on a signal of the “must have” experience.   Once I had a clear signal, I could work with the team to start aligning the business around the “must have” experience.

I also found that it was important to monitor this “must have” experience over time.  Each new product update can change it.  Shifts in the competitive landscape can also affect it. For an experience to be a “must have” it should be both valuable and unique.  The emergence of a new competitor can instantly turn your “must have” experience into a “nice-to-have” experience.

MustHaveScore Makes it Much Easier

Working with the team of engineers at CatchFree, we’ve been able to not only productize the approach but also improve it.  The result is Our feedback widget requires no customization and intelligently evolves as more users provide feedback.  The user input is simple and requires less than a minute of their time. While the backend data processing is complex, the output is simple and easy to understand. We provide a comparative overview of all use cases that shows the relative popularity and passion around each use case, and then we segment user feedback to give you the context to understand why the use case is a “must have.”

Given my background with freemium, it’s not surprising that we decided to offer the most valuable analysis for free (everything described in the previous paragraph).  Over time we plan to offer additional premium services to help with positioning, targeting and eventually customer acquisition.

This is not a pivot.  MustHaveScore is part of our broader goal of helping people get more value out of innovative technology solutions.  After we help you identify your must have use cases, we want to eventually work with you (optionally) to help expose these use cases to prospective customers.

Not a Replacement for Customer Development

This toolset is really for transitioning to growth and then maintaining a strong growth rate after you have achieved product/market fit.  It is not a replacement for early stage customer development, which is all about “getting out of the building” to reach product/market fit.  In the early days, it is essential to meet face-to-face with existing and prospective customers.  There a couple key reasons why early stage startups must meet face-to-face with existing and prospective customers:

  1. They help you form insights that you could never get through structured, automated feedback.
  2. A startup generally doesn’t have enough users to automate the customer feedback function via surveys.

And even when you do have enough users to automate it, face-to-face interviews should always complement surveys. My best epiphanies that led to big boosts in growth have always followed concentrated face-to-face engagements with customers.

Benefits for Early Users

We’ve been slowly rolling out MustHaveScore over the last couple months and now have about 50 companies on the service. This slow rollout has been mutually beneficial since early companies have gotten hands on help interpreting and acting on the data, and we’ve gotten direct feedback to help us improve the service.

Note: is now in private beta while we focus on our recent acquisition of KISSinsights.

Chasing Problems?

The best startups generally begin by trying to address a really important problem worth solving. If they can nail the solution to this important problem, they have a great chance of building a successful startup.

How Solving Problems Can Lead to Failure

Surprisingly, founders’ instincts to solve problems can also cause us to fail. Many startups miss success signals because they are too busy solving problems. Our instincts tell us to be responsive to customer feedback – especially negative feedback. These problems are so actionable that we feel good solving them. But over time a startup that chases problem after problem creates a bloated, fragmented solution that isn’t really needed by anyone.

Find the “Must Have” Use Cases – Ignore Most Problems

Ultimately the goal of any startup should be to create a “must have” product experience. The signal that tells you that you have created a “must have” product is your true north to build a successful business. You should understand everything you can about the “must have” experience so you can cultivate and protect it. Who considers it a must have, how are they using it, why do they love it, why did they need it, where do they come from…?

It feels totally counterintuitive to pursue these positive signals while ignoring most of the feedback about problems. But in my experience, this is the right thing to do. In fact, this is the most important thing that I learned in the years that I focused on helping to take startups to market such as Dropbox, Lookout and Xobni. To reiterate, the positive signal is much more important than the ongoing flow of new problems.

Problems Worth Solving

So which problems are worth solving? Essentially any problem that stands in the way of delivering the “must have” experience once it has been identified.

Problems worth solving include:

  • Usability issues that prevent reaching the must have experience
  • Confusing value proposition about the must have experience
  • Targeting the wrong users (AKA users who don’t need the must have experience)

But start by focusing the majority of your energy trying to create at least one must have use case. If you can’t find any positive signal about someone considering it a must have, then go back and revisit the original problem you were trying to solve. You might need to find one that is even more important to solve.

I recognize that my recommendation to ignore most problems is controversial.  Please comment whether you agree or disagree.  Hopefully we can get some good debate in the comments.

Update: Just to clarify, I’m referring to the data that deserves your focus.  I don’t mean to imply that you should be unresponsive to the customers that make suggestions.  It is very important to give great customer support.  Just don’t promise to change your product/business based on every reported problem.