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Four years ago, LawnStarter had just got into Techstars.  We had managed to scrape together a small customer base - enough to validate our product - but had yet to figure out how we would scale our customer acquisition. Over the course of the summer we wasted a ton of time banging our heads against the wall, trying to figure out how we would scale up customer acquisition.  We got lots of opinions, most of them not helpful.  One that we thought was particularly insightful came from a very well-respected investor, and went something along the lines of: You should have a goal for the next month to come up with and test at least one new channel idea per day - five would be better. That was among the worst advice I've gotten when it comes to marketing.  Yet I see so many early stage companies struggle and often fail not because they have a bad product, but because they've resorted to throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. Since then, I've learned a ton about startups and marketing.  For me and other startup growth practitioners, it's actually quite easy to look at a business, and have a pretty good idea on the ideal growth channels that business will use to grow. My goal with this post is to share that knowledge so that founders will waste less time struggling to find their marketing channels, and more time building cool stuff.

  • AB

    Alex Birkett

    about 2 months ago #

    Legitimately one of the best posts I've read on acquisition. Having done acquisition for both large and small companies, I resonated w/ almost all of this (especially that there are finite scalable channels, and only some are really logical given your product and business model).

    Also a fan of this thought: ‘Oh we tried [X channel], it didn’t work’ – a common thing founders say. No, your first attempt didn’t work.

    Hopefully this helps defuse the concept that we all need to be Dropbox and Airbnb (neglecting survivorship bias and the halo effect) and follow a specific set of tactics to success. Rather, it's about asking yourself a set of questions ("Are customers searching for the solution? Do they know what they want to buy?" etc.), and resuming from there

    • RF

      Ryan Farley

      about 2 months ago #

      So true about the halo effect. Half the top posts on this site are 'dissecting the growth strategy' of a Dropbox, Uber, Airbnb ect. The reality is that these companies really struck a chord with the market, and probably would have grown big with or without their 'north star' or the tactics they used. Much more you can learn from the successful but not wildly successful companies IMO.

  • MB

    Michael Berliner

    about 2 months ago #

    Love the approach with the split of "starting scrappy" and then "scaling up". One thing I find difficult when you are doing new channel discovery and development or pioneering anything new within a startup or company is getting people onboard, especially when the concept might be foreign and it might take more effort to get them comfortable with it than is worth the ROI. Had any success or approaches for getting buy-in with new channels or approaches you are testing?

    • RF

      Ryan Farley

      about 2 months ago #

      Be both the founder and the growth guy ;)

      I can't say I really know what I'm talking about here, being both of those roles. But what I do know, is that when it comes to experimentation, everybody has something that'll tickle their fancy. If you pick up on what that person's biases are that they're likely to act on, and position your idea accordingly, you'll have a better shot at pushing things through. Of course, having a solid business case and proofpoints always helps.

  • ML

    Mark Lindquist

    about 2 months ago #

    Great stuff as always. Glad you mentioned Andrew Chen's article on the growth channels that scale. I actually revisit that article every once in a while to remind myself to stay focused on the stuff that can realistically scale up as far as I need them to. It's easy to get lost in the tactics and forget that there at a high level, there are only a few channels that you can build a business on.

    "If you sell a subscription product for $29 / month, you probably can’t pay a sales reps to drum up business via cold calling. If you monetize via ads (social network or media site), you need virtually free user acquisition."

    I think as technology and automation continues to improve, channels that used to only be profitable for higher LTV businesses will become more and more accessible to lower LTV businesses.

    • RF

      Ryan Farley

      about 2 months ago #

      Thanks Mark. Not sure I agree w/ you on automation (competition being at odds with advances in automation), but I hope so. Opens up the door for more products at a lower cost.

  • JC

    Jeff Chang

    about 2 months ago #

    Great comprehensive blog post! I like how you frame it as start scrappy, then start scaling. Also agree that SEO, virality, and paid are the "big 3" for consumer apps.

  • DD

    Dan D'Aquisto

    about 2 months ago #

    This article resonated better than anything else I've ever read. It was the right content for the right audience. I felt like it was exactly what I've gone through as a startup founder of a B2C service business. I've already shared this with my whole team and other founders through my Techstars network. Thanks for taking the time to lay this out, Ryan! Looking forward to connecting soon.

  • DH

    Dani Hart

    about 2 months ago #

    This post is gold.

    ‘Oh we tried [X channel], it didn’t work’ – a common thing founders say. No, your first attempt didn’t work.

    That is absolutely a problem I've seen. There are so many variables that go into why a channel doesn't work (including poor execution/implementation) that it's near impossible to rule out an entire channel based on one or a few attempts. I recommend startups get into the habit of post-mortems and team learning early on to ensure it sticks with the culture as companies grow, but unfortunately the value of these is often hard for people to see as it doesn't always tie directly to results.

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