Successful Startup Growth Means Taking Risks
Whenever we hear about companies reaching hockeystick-like growth, the first thing a lot of people wonder about is how they got there. Having a great product is a mandatory step but that’s not all. After you’ve reached product/market fit, it’s time to scale. A large part of scaling is adding fuel to your growth channels; and that means having a strong marketing/growth team. That’s not all though – the team should be able to tolerate more risk than other teams in the company.
And if you’re a leader on a startup growth/marketing team, it’s even riskier. I’ll let growth expert Sean Ellis speak to that:
Based on anecdotal evidence, I’d guess that 90% of startup marketing leaders don’t work out. This corresponds to the overwhelming majority of startups falling short of expectations of founders and early investors. When a startup falls short of expectations, the startup marketing leader is the first to go. Even those fortunate enough to gain early user traction still face the uphill battle of finding cost effective ways to acquire users at scale. And if they do succeed, then startups are often tempted to hire a “next level marketer” to replace them.
A successful startup marketing leader must be undaunted by these risks and believe they uniquely have what it takes to succeed. That sounds a lot like the profile of most startup founders. So it’s not surprising that the best startup marketers are entrepreneurs at the core. Entrepreneurs are willing to take the risk and are generally tenacious enough to uncover the channels necessary to drive long-term growth.
tl;dr: it’s risky as hell to be on a startup growth team. Especially if you’re the leader.
If you don’t hit numbers, you’re out. Easy as that. The growth team is most directly responsible for bringing in more customers and increasing revenue. If things aren’t going right, it’s the most convenient to point the fingers that way.
Is it fair? No.
But life’s not fair.
The Solution To Becoming More Risk Tolerant
Ellis has established that startup marketers should be entrepreneurial. But how do you do that?
First, they understand that startup success looks like this:
Having the understanding that there’s nothing shameful about failing often allows more things to be done. Entrepreneurs understand that not taking risks is inherently risky in itself. All they care about are results.
Entrepreneurial minded people also understand that they don’t need to be smarter than people to win; it just takes a bunch of hard work to succeed.
Just look at Elon Musk, an entrepreneur that literally bet all his chips when he could have just walked away with riches that he accumulated. After having success with PayPal, he started electric car company Tesla and space exploration company SpaceX. This is the level of risk tolerance you want to strive for if you’re on a startup growth team.
How To Become Entrepreneurial
Start by consuming a lot of startup related content. A lot of it.
The resources below will help paint a clear picture into lives of entrepreneurs, what their mindsets are, how they handle difficult moments, and much more. Although the personalities might be different, you’ll come to find that there are a few unique characteristics they all embody.
- Ycombinator’s Startup School – this is a Youtube channel that allows you to view recorded interviews with successful startup entrepreneurs. You’ll see notables such as Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook.
- This Week In Startups – Jason Calacanis’ weekly startup show where he interviews entrepreneurs.
- The Foundation – Kevin Rose’s show where he interviews entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk.
- Quora – Quora provides a wealth of useful nuggets especially because it’s a startup and many entrepreneurs are actively engaging and participating in discussion. Here’s a thread on the most inspiring entrepreneurial stories.
Autobiographies, such as Steve Jobs, go into detail about specific challenges that entrepreneurs face and how they deal with them. You’re going to face difficult situations so it’s helpful to have some insight as to how successful entrepreneurs dealt with tough challenges.
Business/motivational books also help a lot. Here are some recommendations:
- Delivering Happiness
- Tribal Leadership
- Good to Great
- How To Win Friends And Influence People
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- The Ultimate Sales Machine
- 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
The major traits that are seen in entrepreneurs are persistence, focus, networking, risk tolerance, and the desire to make a positive impact around them.
Keep in mind that reading is just the beginning. Remember, these resources are there to help mold your mind into that of an entrepreneurs.
After that, go out there and experiment. You should (hopefully) be a little more risk adverse and vocal about what you think is right. The best way (I’ve found) to gain experience is to work on little projects.
For example, creating a hobby site allows you to learn about which CMS is ideal for you, what plugins are effective, keyword research, blogger outreach, and the other nuances of running a website. Or if you’re looking for freelance work, you can offer your skills pro bono to people around your community to start getting the word out. All that matters is that you start somewhere.
Eventually, all the little experiments that you test will help you become bolder when it comes time to take risks. After all, there’s no one holding you back from making decisions so it’s up to you to push the limits.
Sure, driving growth is fun and you’re a superstar if you can help put the pedal on customer acquisition and revenues, but you better be patient and have really thick skin.
Once you’ve acquired that entrepreneurial mindset, you’ll be better equipped to handle the ups and downs of startup life.