The Startup Team

I completely agree with everything Paul Graham says in this short interview…   I’d want to invest in this type of team if they were using a lean startup approach.


Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup

Once startups are ready to scale, their biggest challenge is often hiring someone capable of leading the growth charge.   A marketer with the right talents and approach can kick some serious ass once product-market fit and an efficient conversion/monetization process have been proven.

But the problem is that most startups try to hire for skills and experience that are irrelevant, while failing to focus on the essential few skills.  Typical job descriptions are often laden with generic but seemingly necessary requirements like an ability to establish a strategic marketing plan to achieve corporate objectives, build and manage the marketing team, manage outside vendors, etc.

Generally speaking, the job requirements/skills mentioned above are not paramount for startups in or before the early growth phase.

After product-market fit and an efficient conversion process, the next critical step is finding scalable, repeatable and sustainable ways to grow the business.  If you can’t do this, nothing else really matters. So rather than hiring a VP Marketing with all of the previously mentioned prerequisites, I recommend hiring or appointing a growth hacker.

What is a Growth Hacker?

A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.  Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.  Is positioning important?  Only if a case can be made that it is important for driving sustainable growth (FWIW, a case can generally be made).

The good news is that when you strip away everything that doesn’t have a direct impact on growth, a growth hacker should be easier to hire than a VP Marketing (or maybe an insider already has the needed skills).  I’ve met great growth hackers with engineering backgrounds and others with sales backgrounds.

The common characteristic seems to be an ability to take responsibility for growth and an entrepreneurial drive (it’s risky taking that responsibility).  The right growth hacker will have a burning desire to connect your target market with your must have solution.  They must have the creativity to figure out unique ways of driving growth in addition to testing/evolving the techniques proven by other companies.

An effective growth hacker also needs to be disciplined to follow a growth hacking process of prioritizing ideas (their own and others in the company), testing the ideas, and being analytical enough to know which tested growth drivers to keep and which ones to cut.  The faster this process can be repeated, the more likely they’ll find scalable, repeatable ways to grow the business.

When VP Marketing?

Not all growth hackers can or should evolve into VPs of marketing.  A VP marketing needs to be able to help shape the overall company strategy, build and manage a marketing team and coordinate outside vendors among many other responsibilities.  Some growth hackers will be great at this, while others will be bored out of their minds.  The important thing to note is that without some proven scalable, sustainable ways of growing the business, these things will not matter.

Are You A Growth Hacker?

Some of my favorite conversations are those I have with fellow growth hackers.  Last week in San Francisco, I had breakfast with three fantastic growth hackers and we traded insights that benefited each of us (don’t bother asking me for names to try to recruit them, two are CEOs and the other is VP User Growth at a very hot company).

I’m a big proponent of establishing and building a broader community of growth hackers.  The problem is that not all people are cut out to be growth hackers.   If you think you are a growth hacker, please post a link to your LinkedIn profile below so other growth hackers in your area can connect.

Update Oct 2013 – If you want to get inspired to develop effective growth hacks and engage with other growth hackers, check out our new project at

Getting to Product-Market Fit

I’m very excited about this guest post and confident that it will be a huge help for anyone struggling to find Product-Market fit. Enjoy! Sean

Guest Post By Patrick Vlaskovits

Sean asked me to write a guest post to help startups achieve Product-Market Fit since he primarily advises startup after they’ve already reached it (during their transition to high growth businesses). Actually getting to Product-Market Fit is an important topic since the vast majority of startups never get there, making it virtually impossible to drive sustainable growth.

I’ve just completed what amounts to a comprehensive study on the topic of getting to Product-Market Fit with Brant Cooper, culminating in our book called The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development. The most important insights were gained from successful serial entrepreneur, Steve Blank, who encouraged us to write the book as a primer to the first step of Customer Development. Customer Development is the startup framework he codified in his landmark book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany. If you haven’t read the book (you really should), Steve’s many insights are deep, but the core takeaway is that most startups fail not because they don’t manage to develop and deliver a product to the market; they fail because they develop and deliver a product that no customers want or need.  The ramifications of this deceptively simple observation are manifold and underpin much of what you will read below.   Sean has provided a free survey that should be helpful in validating if you have created a product people want or need.

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development also folds in the work of Eric Ries.  Eric has built upon Steve’s work and expanded it with his concept of “The Lean Startup.” A Lean Startup is one that combines fast-release, iterative development methodologies (e.g., Agile) with Customer Development concepts.

Wherever you are in the process of taking your product to market, the following Lean Startup and Customer Development concepts can help you achieve Product-Market Fit.  Nothing else really matters to a startup other than getting to Product-Market Fit as fast as possible.   Below is a brief outline, based on The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development, which will hopefully help you do just that.

Identify and document your assumptions

The sooner you understand and accept that you, as a entrepreneur at somewhere pre-Product Market Fit with your startup, are operating in near-chaos, where all your assumptions/hypotheses about how you gratify your users, who they are, how you will acquire and monetize them – are simply that, untested assumptions, the better off you are.

With your assumptions documented and in-hand you will:

“Get out of the Building” to validate (or invalidate) your assumptions

You must find, meet and speak with prospective customers about your product and ascertain the validity of your assumptions. This is the crux of Customer Development.  Only by speaking to these people will you have any sort of understanding about “their reality” as Dan Martell likes to put it.  What problems do they face?  How do they solve them?  What matters to them?  What is a must-have for them?

As you speak to potential customers, you should:

Identify the risk factors in the opportunity

Are you facing significant technology risks?  Or more of market risk?  How can you test and validate these (starting with the most risky)?  What market testable milestones can you build that would result in sufficient evidence to induce you to pivot or move forward? A proof of concept? A letter of intent?  A prototype?

As your understanding of the market betters, the risks will begin to crystallize, if certain risk factors prove insurmountable, you must:

Pivot but not jump

By changing an element of your customer-problem-solution hypotheses or business model, based on actual learning from a customer. As Eric Ries writes “by testing, each failed hypothesis leads to a new pivot, where we change just one element of the business plan (customer segment, feature set, positioning) – but don’t abandon everything we’ve learned.

The way to test and learn from your market is to build an:

MVP (Minimal Viable Product)

Don’t forget that an MVP is a product with the fewest set of features needed to achieve a specific objective and that you should require a trade of some scarce resource (time, money, attention) for the use of the product, such that the transaction demonstrates the product might be “viable”.

For non-paying milestones, you must define the currency (the scarce resource) and your objective (what you are trying to learn). For example, intermediate MVPs might include: landing page click-through that prove there’s some amount of interest in a product; a time commitment for an in-person meeting to view a demo that shows the customer’s problem being resolved; or a resource commitment for a pilot program to test how the product fits into a particular environment.

Once you have users using your MVP, listen for and tune into the:

Must-have signal

that demonstrates the core product functionality that your customers absolutely must have, while testing your assumptions and learning the characteristics of your market segment that will allow you to reach out and acquire them efficiently.  Sean’s survey, mentioned earlier, can be useful in finding your must have signal.

Once you successfully developed a minimal viable product and have found the must have signal, it is time to:

Double-down and strip away the unnecessary

Now you know what your customers want, you need to focus with laser-like intensity in building a gratification engine that does not disappoint.

If you can do all of the above successfully and throw in a hearty amount of luck for good measure, there is a good chance you can get to Product-Market Fit.  It may take a significant amount of time and persistence, but potential customers always hold the answer to creating a must have product.