How startups can build a growth marketing DNA


I truly believe that “Growth is a mindset and not a skill”. It is what sets successful growth marketers apart from the rest. In fact, one of the first things I did after assuming my current role was to re-brand the marketing function as “Growth Marketing”. In today’s tough startup environment, you don’t need growth ninjas to deliver on growth. The key is to build a core growth DNA or framework that helps you do more with the team you already have.

In my career spanning 12 years now, I have worked across offline, online, mobile and everything else in between, including a startup of my own. I have learnt a whole lot, though I see a few clear patterns that have become my guiding principles today. I have now built these principles into our Growth Marketing team framework. We call these the foundational growth pillars. They define who we are and how we think about growth. These principles guide us north by playing on our product and team strengths, optimising our existing resources without burning a ton of marketing dollars.

Setting up your startup to be a growth machine

I breathe these principles everyday. They guide our entire team to think about growth differently. It’s a mindset and culture that is non-negotiable for growth marketers today.


  1. Know and believe that growth can happen without a lot of cash burn

Assuming you have a product-market fit, growth in users (MAUs or whatever growth metric you track) is possible without a lot of cash burn. Unless you believe this, you can’t change your tactics. Buying users to grow isn’t sustainable. So, tomorrow if you lose the cash, will you stop growing? Logically, there has to be another way for sustained growth. As growth marketers, we have to think about growth creatively all the time with or without a budget.


  1. Build a culture of experiment and learn

New age marketing aligned to drive growth is informed by measurable experiments.

Build a hypothesis --> Define what success looks like --> Measure --> Learn --> Repeat!

This is the only formula that works every time! While it might validate a lot of your assumptions, more often than not, the process (and its outcomes) will surprise you.


  1. Challenge everything. Never settle. Comfort is your enemy.

As humans, we have a natural tendency to resist changing what works for us because that gives us comfort. The truth is that if we ask a few curious questions, we can find hacks that prompt us to change a few levers and see better, steeper growth than what we once settled for.

Growth marketers are restless by nature

They believe that there is always a better way to do things. Always! To give you a sense, after I introduced the growth pillars, we re-looked at the entire strategy. We challenged a few comfort zones that were steady, healthy growth areas. We wanted to do better from an acquisition standpoint, which prompted us to run a few simple experiments. These changes helped us to grow, on average, at about 35-40% month-on-month on the same marketing budget for three consecutive months, plus we also lowered our customer acquisition cost (CAC). That’s a ton of value without the cash burn. True delight to our stakeholders! With a taste of this success, the team is now motivated and running many experiments everyday on their own, learning new things, feeding learnings into other cross-functional teams and optimising along the way.


  1. Growth is not a single function. It’s a collaboration.

Startups that are aligned for growth realise fast that marketing and product teams are two sides of the same coin. They are not two different functions with marketing being an afterthought. Sadly, even today, a lot of companies don’t realise the value until it is too late. In our company, growth marketing teams are constantly working closely with product teams to create better user flows and find more creative ways to hack growth.


  1. Be prepared to fail; it’s a part of growth.

When you run experiments, you’ll learn that there are tactics that might have worked for others but don’t work for you. Probably your marketing dollars are being spent on a channel that is driving a lot of traffic but not quality users, hence leading to a ‘leaky bucket’. If we aren’t ready to look at our experiments objectively, we will never grow at a healthy pace. We need to build a culture that can be optimised along the way, thus helping us to save money in the long run. It’s learning at a small cost.


  1. If we can’t measure, we can’t do.

This is a dare and you need to be bold to do this. Of course, this has caveats based on what kind of startup you are and what stage of growth you’re at. The reason I find myself drawn to this is because it keeps me grounded, challenging the ROI for everything I do. After all, data is a Growth Marketer’s scientific gear. Without data and insights, growth is hard to optimise.

Invest in tools and analytics. Make them your best pal. There are a ton of tools available that can help you learn more and reduce dependency on product and tech teams, allowing you to move fast. Speed will help you ship faster! And speed matters in growth.


  1. Lastly and repeatedly, user first

All of the above six points don’t matter if user focus isn’t at the core of everything you do. Ask questions all the time, such as:

  • How many steps before the user gets to do what you promised in your communication?
  • Can you optimise the user journey more?
  • Can you do something differently to make the journey seamless?
  • Can the product team help in tweaking/optimising along the way?
  • Can we have a simpler messaging?
  • Are we communicating a value that the end user cares about?
  • What is the environment and the whole story for the communication that the user sees?
  • Does it make sense?

And then some.

As I evolved from being a brand marketer to a growth marketer, the journey has been exhilarating and one where I had to unlearn a lot every now and then. That led me to draw-up a few of the above guidelines as a basic framework that works for me. This can help you get started today and, if done right, your team can start seeing results in less than two weeks. With just a few process and thinking tweaks, you will be surprised with the results you see.

I promise this will blow your mind every day!

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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