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.

15 thoughts on “Key to Sustaining Rapid Growth

  1. Awesome news. I’ve been checking in on CatchFree every once in awhile to see what’s new. This is a very interesting focus and makes total sense with the explanation.

    Does the process behind the MustHaveScore complement or replace standard feedback mechanisms? I’ve got UserVoice live on one of my web apps, and would love to kick the tires, especially with the promising of honing in on the “must have experience”.

    FYI – the last link in the post (“MustHaveScore”) is currently broken.

  2. Thanks Mike. Generally I think it complements the standard feedback mechanisms like UserVoice, but in the spirit of customer development I’d love to connect to understand your goals with a service like UserVoice… I’ll send you an email (I hope that’s OK, it’s with your comment).

  3. It’s exciting to see the continual improvement and loop tightening in the tools available for building businesses that matter.

    I wonder if there is an analog to “Must Haves” that might help startups build better teams by more rigorously identifying what the truly great employees “must have” from their careers and what a startup “must have” from its talent?

    Thinking of current and prospective employees a little more like customers and a little less like suppliers might fundamentally improve getting the right talent and increasing/sustaining the passion.

  4. Awesome project, great article! Do you think it makes sense to implement the MustHaveScore widget on a microsite presenting an iOS app such as Holographium? I rarely visit a microsite *after* making the purchase. Before I make it though, I don’t know the product and therefore wouldn’t know the answer to “How would you feel if it was no longer available?”. Maybe it would make much more sense to implement something like this directly into the app, as a simple drop-in for iOS apps. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss this.

  5. This is awesome, I’m totally fired up to be using it. I have several SaaS clients that I’m working with as well as my own web app side project where things are good, but we’re not quite the “must have” we need to be, so I’ve been using and a few other techniques to try to get me there. This is a 10X improvement on what I’ve been doing though, so I expect it will have transformative results.

  6. Thanks, great idea. It would be awesome to have a seamless way to get this feedback for iOS apps. We’ll definitely be in touch to get your thoughts.

  7. Agree Chris, is great for getting unstructured feedback to help reach product/market fit. MustHaveScore can help you identify if you have it in a particular segment of your user base.

  8. Eric, Sean,

    The real bottleneck with lean startup is finding a small but significant number of passionate users. Assuming (1) early “paid” adopters are likely to be passionate users, and (2) early adopters are about 2.5% of the related population, the real challenge becomes finding 10 to 20 passionate users(early “paid” adopters. So we need to find, qualify and interview 400 to 800 people in the target domain. If we are really good at finding these people, the find/interview list can drop to 50-100 people.
    How do you find these people currently?
    How much time/effort does it take for you?
    How will a founder, who is not nationally recognized, do this effectively?
    Is there an easier way to find these people?

  9. Mukul, I really think it depends on where you are with the company. In the early days you rarely have a big enough sample size to be scientifically certain about anything. But if you document the key assumptions that support the premise of why you believe your product is needed, you can start challenging those assumptions before your first line of code is written. Once you release the MVP of your product you’ll generally need to be creative and persistent to get even a handful of people to try it. Their input will be directionally useful, but again it won’t be statistically significant. The entire reason for getting these early users is to create a feedback loop to validate or disprove your key assumptions in the business. In my experience the early process is anecdotal and is really about informing your gut with real customer input.

    Occasionally a startup nails it with an early release of a product and takes off – just as occasionally people win the lottery. But it is not realistic to expect this. More often it is an iterative grind to find the right solution for the right market.

    I don’t believe statistical significance is important until you believe that you have reached product market fit and are ready to scale the business. If you are wrong, you’ll likely kill the startup. So in that case you want to be very certain that you are resonating with a “must have” product in the right market. The blog post above then gives some guidance on how you can make that business much more growable by tapping into the “must have” experience.

    Hope this helps.

  10. Sean,

    Thanks! Yes, your reply has helped shed additional light on estimating market reaction and traction in early stages of lean development.

  11. Constructive feedback: the “tweet my ad to get early access” comes across as gimmicky, even scam-y. I’m sure it wasn’t meant that way, but if you’re instructing someone on what to say (and when they haven’t even tried the service), it’s not authentic, and it’s not at all appealing or trust-inspiring.

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  13. Thanks Alan. Appreciate your candid feedback.

    I hope this won’t come off as defensive, but I’d like to explain my reasoning a bit on requesting the tweet. Both my blog and MustHaveScore are scalable free ways to help lots of startups. But my time doesn’t scale, so I needed some way to prioritize who I could help directly. Money is the most natural way to do this, but I don’t want to be in the paid consulting business. So a public tweet seemed like a good way to ration who gets help and in which order.

    Of course I do get some value from the tweet. It’s a good way to get the word out about the free guidance I provide on my blog and the free tools the CatchFree team has made available. But the value of most of these tweets is much lower than what I’d expect from the value of my hands on help. In the past my compensation for hands on help ranged from several thousand dollars to millions of dollars (when including options appreciation) for up to six months of help. I’ve always thought of my advising as having a diminishing value – where the first half hour is the most valuable. This is especially true if I have a structured way to assess feedback from active users on a solution. With the feedback generated by MustHaveScore I’ll be able to provide a lot of value in a very short time.

    Finally, I provided an example tweet so people would know that I wasn’t asking them to lie and say they’ve already used it and love it. The example tweet said “excited to run it…” I tried to make it clear in the post that anyone can use the service for free, but if they want my hands on help this is how I’m rationing my limited time. I also wrote “something like this” rather than saying “use this exact Tweet.”

    Hope this clarifies my intentions. Thanks again for the honest feedback.

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