Don't Let Your North Star Metric Deceive You

Don't Let Your North Star Metric Deceive You

We’ve all heard the rallying cry of the “One Metric That Matters”.

Choose your north star and focus. Grow 7% week over week. If you grow DAUs, the rest will follow.

But blindly buying into the concept of the one metric that matters (OMTM) is a fatal oversimplification.

In a recent essay, Casey Winters, formerly Growth at Pinterest, says:

“The search for one key metric for a complex ecosystem like Pinterest over-simplifies how the ecosystem works and prevents anyone from focusing on understanding the different elements of that ecosystem. You want the opposite to be true. You want everyone focused on understanding how different elements work together in this ecosystem. The one key metric can make you think that is not important.”

In this post, we’ll expand on Casey’s points, walking through why focusing only on your north star metric is a dangerous way to measure the growth of your business, and how teams should think about setting their metrics instead.

Why Do So Many Startups Get Product Marketing Wrong?

Why Do So Many Startups Get Product Marketing Wrong?

Many startup teams fail to bring in product marketers with the right skill sets at the right time, and end up paying for it with failed launches.

Because product marketing is a relatively new role, a majority of technology companies don't know what product marketing is or how it's different from marketing, growth marketing, digital marketing, brand marketing and product management.

For that reason, founders often ask me some combination of the following questions:

  • What do product marketers do?
  • What are they responsible for?
  • How are their goals different than those of marketing, growth and product management?
  • How do we know if and when we need to hire a product marketer?

To unpack the answers to these questions I generally start at the top with the goal:

“A product marketer’s primary goal is to deliver the right product to the target customer at the right time to ensure customer adoption.”

Then, I walk through how I breakdown the role of a product marketer - their key responsibilities, how those responsibilities align to different phases in the product growth cycle, and when is the right time to hire.

In this post, I’ll share the 3-step process I’ve developed for working with teams to help them understand the role of a product marketer and get as much value out of their product marketing efforts as possible. The steps of the process are outlined below:

  1. Clarify the company’s overarching business goals, initiatives, product roadmap, decision making structure, culture, and brand.
  2. Determine the stage of the product’s growth cycle - early, mid, or late stage.
  3. Uncover where you can make the biggest impact within the three typical areas of focus for product marketers (we’ll go through these in detail):
    1. Market validation
    2. Framing the message
    3. Go-to-market strategy (GTM) and delivering the message

Then, I’ll dig into where companies go wrong when it comes to product marketing and how to avoid common pitfalls.

My goal in sharing the process is to help teams and product marketers alike determine if, when, and how they should be working together, and identify the pitfalls that may prevent them from delivering the right product to the target customer at the right time and driving customer adoption.

Let’s walk through the process.

How Showmax Runs a Growth Team Across 70+ Global Markets

How Showmax Runs a Growth Team Across 70+ Global Markets

Showmax is running growth in over 70 regional markets with a centralized team sitting in Amsterdam. We spoke with Barron Ernst, Showmax’s Chief Product Officer, about building an international growth team from scratch, and how the team balances local optimizations with global efforts to drive subscription growth:

1. One specific way a centralized growth team can support dozens of country markets
2. What it means to build “multilateral” growth
3. How growth brings regional teams together
4. The tactics of knowledge-sharing across multiple countries, teams, and goals
5. The secret to adapting experiments and optimizations across 70+ markets
6. How Showmax decides new country markets
7. How brand marketing and growth play together

The Growth Experiment Management System that Tripled Our Testing Velocity

The Growth Experiment Management System that Tripled Our Testing Velocity

All the fastest growing companies move at lightspeed.

Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, and Facebook are some of the fastest growing companies in history, in part because they built high velocity testing into their cultures from day one. Lindsay Pettingill, a data science manager on Airbnb’s growth team, reports that her team has increased their experiment cadence from 100 to 700 experiments per week over the past two years.

Airbnb isn’t the only rocketship that prioritizes speed. For years Facebook’s motto was, “Move fast and break things.”

In 2014, they updated that motto to, “Move fast with stable infrastructure.”

Slightly different, but the message was still the same - speed matters. A lot.

Despite knowing that speed is crucial, most teams move at a snail’s pace. There are two key reasons for this:

  1. They struggle to get organizational buy in for growth initiatives across the team.
  2. They fail to build airtight, repeatable experimentation systems.

Just as Jira has improved efficiency and collaboration for many development teams, a management system built specifically for experimentation can improve speed for a growth team.

Larger companies can devote engineers to building powerful systems in-house, but smaller teams often view these systems as too expensive, too difficult to build, or both.

Google sheets, though clunky and increasingly ill-suited as test pace increases, is the default for most startups. This creates an inherent negative feedback loop within the process that slows cadence.

In this post, I will reveal how I built a lightweight, inexpensive experimentation system for Feastly that:

  • Facilitated collaboration and buy-in across the entire team.
  • Increased idea contribution from the whole company by 2x.
  • 3x'd experimentation speed.

Four New Ad Opportunities to Test Before Your Competition

Four New Ad Opportunities to Test Before Your Competition

Is growth getting harder?

Many existing channels have extended past their golden age and are reaching saturation points in their lifecycles for a variety of reasons.

Additionally, everyone's getting smarter about growth, including consumers. Now, most invite systems no longer have the same novelty value or efficacy today as they did 10 years ago, and consumers’ “banner blindness” extends far beyond actual display advertising to encompass referral systems and virality programs.

Finally, the proliferation of robust off-the-shelf tools like Mixpanel, Optimizely, and many others is closing the gap on being data-driven at companies, and makes all of us (including our peers and competitors) smarter and faster.

But, growth is not finished; it’s just changing. Today, increased competition has led more companies to emphasize paid acquisition as a core driver of growth.

New Opportunities in the Paid Acquisition Age

Back in the spring we saw a burst of ad related launches from “up-and-coming” social products:

  • Quora announced the public launch of its self-serve ad platform.
  • Snap revealed its self-serve tools aimed at democratizing the platform's ad solutions beyond brand advertisers with 6-figure spends.
  • LinkedIn rolled out Matched Audiences to allow advertisers to target people by email address.
  • Pinterest upgraded its Promoted Videos offering to auto-play video ads (rather than click-to-play) for users of its mobile app.

What can new channels, or major improvements to existing channels, add to growth efforts?

Andrew Krebs-Smith, CEO of Social Fulcrum, weighs in.

How HubSpot Hires Growth Marketers

How HubSpot Hires Growth Marketers

When our VP of Growth at HubSpot, Kieran Flanagan, told me to start recruiting a growth marketer for HubSpot’s new customer service product my gut reaction was:

“Sure, no problem.”

Quickly followed up by:

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

I’d never hired anyone at HubSpot. I knew practically nothing about recruiting.

During my five-month journey of finding someone to join our team, I’ve learned hiring a smart marketer is extremely challenging. While I surely haven’t mastered hiring, I learned a few lessons along the way which I wish I knew when I started.

The #1 lesson I learned during the hiring process is recruiting is shockingly similar to customer acquisition.

My favorite customer acquisition framework is Ramit Sethi’s concept of “Go where the fish are.” You start by identifying what type of fish you want to catch, figure out where those fish are swimming, and then cast your net.

In this post, I’ll walk you through how I altered the “Go where the fish are” customer acquisition concept to apply to our hiring process. Here’s our a 3-step hiring framework that I now use for hiring at HubSpot.

  1. Identify the “fish” you want to catch → identify your ideal candidate.
  2. Go where the fish are → figure out where the most qualified candidates “hang out” online.
  3. Focus on lakes with fish, ignore the rest → Spend all your time recruiting where you get traction with highly-qualified candidates, and ignore recruiting channels that don’t yield the kinds of candidates you’re targeting.

Let’s get started with the first step.

Note: At the end of this article, you’ll find actionable templates we used in the interview process. This includes (1) the exact interview questions we asked, (2) the test assignment we sent candidates, and (3) our “sorry it didn’t work” email template we sent candidates who didn’t get the job.

The Two-Sided Network Effect - How Omni Bootstrapped Marketplace Liquidity

The Two-Sided Network Effect - How Omni Bootstrapped Marketplace Liquidity

Editor's Note: Today we're excited to share an exclusive interview with Ryan Delk, VP of Product and Growth at Omni. Omni is a storage-as-a-service business that recently announced its new marketplace feature, allowing people to make money off of their stuff sitting in storage by renting it.

This is a great piece for anyone looking to understand marketplace growth dynamics better, or for anyone interested in learning what marketplaces can teach other models (Omni started out as a one-sided storage-as-a-service business).


Key Growth Lessons:

1. Building a linear business to seed supply-side marketplace challenges can solve the chicken or the egg problem most marketplaces face.

The fundamental challenge of building a marketplace is solving the chicken or the egg conundrum of which comes first. We all know supply is key, but how do you build it if you don't have demand? Building both at the same time is hard!

Omni took a creative approach to solving this problem by building and monetizing their "storage as a service" business first, hitting critical mass, and then layering on the marketplace, seeded with supply from day one.

2. Layering a marketplace on top of an existing business supercharges linear growth and creates a moat around a commodity business. 

Not only does a linear business seed marketplace growth, but marketplace growth in turn feeds the foundational business. It's a self-reinforcing cycle that once spinning is hard to disrupt.

As Omni generates marketplace demand, they are finding that storage customers store more stuff. This supercharges growth.

Retention is Hard, and Getting Harder - Here’s Why

Retention is Hard, and Getting Harder - Here’s Why

If you've been following along in this blog series on retention, you know that retention can make or break your company.

In the first post, The One Growth Metric that Moves Acquisition, Monetization, and Virality,  we dove into how retention can make your company. Specifically, we walked through the 4 ways in which good retention helps you build a competitive advantage by:

  1. Driving acquisition
  2. Improving monetization
  3. Building acquisition muscle
  4. Accelerating payback period

In the second post, Why Retention is the Silent Killer, we revealed how retention, can break your company because:

  1. It requires a long-term view (often multiple years) to understand its impact.
  2. It’s easy to choose the wrong retention metric, which leads teams to focus on the wrong initiatives.  
  3. It requires not just breadth of customer retention, but also depth of engagement to drive sustainable growth.

When we combine these two factors - the power to compound growth and the power to kill it - the importance of retention becomes obvious.

But that’s not the full story. The last thing you need to understand about retention is that it’s hard to improve, and it is getting even harder.

In his blog post Acquisition is Easy, Retention is Hard, Hiten Shah outlines some excellent points on the challenges of retention for SaaS companies. I’d like to expand on his points and walk through how the same issues apply to every tech product.

In this essay, we will examine how 3 market dynamics have created the perfect storm - making retention much harder than it used to be:

  1. Increased competition
  2. Channel fatigue
  3. The rise of monopolies in tech

Then we’ll dig into each of these factors individually to understand more deeply how they affect retention throughout the three stages of the user lifecycle:

  1. Onboarding
  2. Habit formation
  3. Long term retention and engagement

Taking Over the Full Funnel - an Analysis of Google News

Taking Over the Full Funnel - an Analysis of Google News

Recently, Google News announced a suite of product changes aimed at helping paid subscription-based news sites.

In this post, we’ll be looking at different facets of this announcement and their implications for Google News' growth.

Key growth lessons:

1. If you're an aggregator, start with distribution and then leverage the power it affords to build a platform that can own additional parts of the funnel.

Google "took over the world" by building an incredible distribution engine for publishers and an effective discovery engine for consumers. It's continuing to drive growth by transforming that distribution engine into a platform that will allow it to own acquisition, engagement, conversion and monetization for publishers, in addition to discovery.

2. If you're a content producer reliant on one key distribution channel, design your content specifically to fit the channel (and how it makes money), and look for opportunities to create new content formats as your main distribution channel evolves.

Upstart video content creators producing new genres of content such as Let's Play videos and Product Unboxings, were able to build large audiences on the back of YouTube. As Google News evolves into a platform that controls the full funnel, publishers who design their content for the new world of Google News should do very well.

Why Retention Is The Silent Killer

Why Retention Is The Silent Killer

Retention - not only does it make companies - but it also quietly breaks them. For this reason, poor user retention has become the silent startup killer. In this post, I will walk you through the three key ways that companies go wrong when it comes to retention:

  1. They deprioritize retention altogether

  2. They defining their retention metrics incorrectly

  3. They don’t measure engagement

How I Went from Entry Level Sales to SVP Marketing at SurveyMonkey in 8 years

How I Went from Entry Level Sales to SVP Marketing at SurveyMonkey in 8 years

In her early and mid 20s, Ada achieved "hockey stick" growth within her own career, eventually leading growth and marketing as the SVP of Marketing at SurveyMonkey after starting out just 8 years earlier as a new college grad in an entry level sales job at Microsoft.

In this post, Ada shares a few frameworks that anyone can use to trigger a high growth inflection point in their career.

Why the Crypto Multiplier is the Next Secret Weapon in Growth

Why the Crypto Multiplier is the Next Secret Weapon in Growth

Nick Soman is a member of the Reforge Collective (our group of expert speakers who drop their wisdom as part of our Growth Series and Retention & Engagement Series programs) and most recently was growth lead at Gusto.

Nick's superpower is virality and referrals, and his essay is about how crypto can dramatically improve each key metric that contributes to a referral program's success.

The One Growth Metric that Moves Acquisition, Monetization, and Virality

The One Growth Metric that Moves Acquisition, Monetization, and Virality

In 2014, my team and I had been digging into retention for our new HubSpot Sales product. The more we unearthed, the more I realized how critical improving retention was to blowing out the product’s growth story. By May 2015, I was sharing our insights on retention with the wider startup community.

At the same time, high profile startups like Homejoy,, and others, that had raised hundreds of millions of dollars and shot to the moon on rocketship acquisition metrics, were bursting into flames and crashing back to earth.

Since that time retention has become one of the hottest topics among growth professionals. It has emerged as the antidote to this boom and bust story line and the common denominator that separates the most valuable companies from the rest of the pack. It’s become the most valuable player in growth - and this is a great thing.

Yet, there’s still a problem - there is a lack of understanding why retention is the priority. Without understanding this, people end up working on the wrong things and missing the biggest opportunities.

Most people think retention is so crucial simply because it means you lose fewer users than you otherwise would. Though this is true, it misses the critical point.

Retention is the core of your growth model and influences every other input to your model. This is important because if you improve retention, you’ll also improve the rest of your funnel.

Improving retention spurs growth in 4 key ways:

  1. Retention drives acquisition
  2. Retention improves monetization
  3. Retention builds an acquisition competitive edge
  4. Retention accelerates payback period

Disney's 60 Year Old Growth Map Answers the Netflix Question

Disney's 60 Year Old Growth Map Answers the Netflix Question

This week, news broke that Disney is in talks to purchase 21st Century Fox. Consolidation of the two entertainment megapowers comes at a strategic time for Disney, who announced back in August that they'll be ending their content partnership with Netflix in 2019. 

In the context of these moves, in this post we look at Disney's answer to the Netflix question.

How to Grow By Stealing Market Share

How to Grow By Stealing Market Share

Competition is inevitable and turns every product, including yours, into a commodity.

In this post, Brianne Kimmel, growth leader at Zendesk and Reforge alum, walks us through the framework she developed for competitive marketing and how she used it to create a growth advantage for Zendesk.

How a Food & Restaurant Unicorn Nails Acquisition, Monetization, and Defensibility

How a Food & Restaurant Unicorn Nails Acquisition, Monetization, and Defensibility

Chinese restaurant ordering giant Meituan-Dianping recently raised $4B at a $30B valuation, making it the 5th most valuable unicorn in the world (and the 3rd most valuable in China).

In this 5-min read, we’ll look at how Meituan-Dianping overcomes growth and monetization challenges faced by peers in the US, including Yelp, Groupon, and others.

1. Reviews are a traffic acquisition engine, while deals monetize.
2. Dominate neighboring verticals, then use that distribution and infrastructure firepower to expand into more distant bets.

How Personalization Drives Retention and Monetization for Stitch Fix

How Personalization Drives Retention and Monetization for Stitch Fix

Subscription e-commerce is a crowded space, with multiple companies competing in the fashion and clothing vertical alone. But, to a customer, what differentiates a subscription clothing box like Stitch Fix (or its dozen competitors), from Amazon Fashion, from Nordstrom?

This post looks at how Stitch Fix has used personalization to drive retention and monetization, paving the path to its upcoming IPO.

How to Detect and Fight Back Against Ad Fatigue

How to Detect and Fight Back Against Ad Fatigue

Every way that a product or company grows has a ceiling. Some ceilings are lower and closer than others.

In this post, Reforge Alum Andrew Krebs Smith looks at audience saturation for paid acquisition — one of the fastest ways to grow, and also one of the fastest ways to hit that ceiling — and presents 8 ways to break through. 

How Cloudflare Laddered Up from Self-Serve to Enterprise SaaS

How Cloudflare Laddered Up from Self-Serve to Enterprise SaaS

Although Cloudflare claims that over 10% of all HTTP traffic passes through its servers, it’s a company that relatively few people have heard about and even fewer truly understand.

This week, we’ll look at how Cloudflare has grown from a self-serve, low-cost developer product into a pre-IPO business that's become an integral part of the Internet in just 7 years.

Where Are You on the Growth Marketer's Hierarchy of Skills?

Where Are You on the Growth Marketer's Hierarchy of Skills?

Hubspot's Scott Tousley shares the internal career progression framework he's used to build competitive skills and a career path on their growth marketing team.

When I joined HubSpot’s growth team in 2014, led by Brian Balfour, I felt wildly unqualified. I had one skill. I (sort of) understood content marketing. That was it.

That’s why, after many hours of deliberating this topic, and fine-tuning feedback from other intelligent growth marketers, I’m happy to share the internal career progression framework we use at HubSpot.