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The Top Product + Growth Strategy Posts Of 2020

Two goals we have at Reforge are:

  1. Push the frontier of knowledge on building and growing technology companies
  2. Elevate the voices of those practicing on the frontier

We have a lot lined up this year. Before we turn the page to 2021, we wanted to highlight the most popular pieces from Reforge EIR's and Partners in the past year. Enjoy!

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About the Author

Brian Balfour

Brian Balfour

Brian is the Founder and CEO of Reforge. Previously, he was the VP of Growth @ HubSpot. Prior to HubSpot, he was an EIR @ Trinity Ventures and founder of Boundless Learning and Viximo. He advises companies including Blue Bottle Coffee, Gametime, Lumoid, GrabCAD, and Help Scout on growth and customer acquisition.

Why Most Analytics Efforts Fail

By: Crystal Widjaja; Ex SVP Growth at Gojek

Almost every team at some point says "Our data is a mess!" A lot of times it is true, and creates serious negative consequences like a lack of shared language, slow transfer of knowledge, lack of trust in the data, and more. The solution is almost never what people think it is - better tooling, more training, or hiring more technical people. Instead, it is how you abstract the data at the right level. In this post, Crystal talks through her step by step process she developed while helping Gojek scale from 20K to 5M orders per day.

The Entertainment Value Curve

By: Ravi Mehta; EIR at Reforge, Ex CPO at Tinder, Facebook, Tripadvisor

Social is back! In 2020 we saw the explosion of new successes like TikTok, and the implosion of things like Quibi. In this post, Ravi talks about the relationship between Product Value and Social Value to explain where TikTok thrived, and Quibi failed. This is a master class in thinking about high level Product Strategy.

From Product Manager to Product Leader

By: Fareed Mosavat; EIR at Reforge, Ex Dir Product Growth at Slack; and Casey Winters, CPO at Eventbrite

Everyone seems to have their own definition of what product management actually is, and as a result, navigating a career in product management can be incredibly ambiguous and frustrating. Job titles and descriptions vary greatly across companies. The criteria for advancement within organizations can seem vague and subjective. Even worse, there's a hidden trap right in the middle of the PM career ladder from Senior Product Manager to Product Leader. In this post, Casey Winters and Fareed Mosavat break down how to recognize the canyon that exists between Sr PM and PL and how to cross it.

The Adjacent User Theory

By: Bangaly Kaba; EIR at Reforge, Ex VP Growth at Instacart, Instagram
Featuring: Fareed Mosavat and Elena Verna

When Bangaly joined Instagram in 2016, the product had over 400 million users, but the growth rate had slowed. Instagram was growing linearly, not exponentially. For many products that would be viewed as an amazing success, but for a viral social product like Instagram, linear growth doesn’t cut it. Bangaly's job was to help the team accelerate and get back to exponential growth. Over the next 3 years, the growth team and Bangaly discovered why Instagram had slowed, developed a methodology to diagnose the issues, and solved a series of problems that reignited growth and helped us get to over a billion users by the time Bangaly left. That success was anchored on what Bangaly calls The Adjacent User Theory.

The Four Types Of Product Work

By: Fareed Mosavat; EIR at Reforge, Ex Dir Product Growth at Slack; and Casey Winters, CPO at Eventbrite

All product work is not equal. That might sound like an obvious statement, yet most teams use one approach to many types of product problems. It isn't solved by implementing the latest software development process fad but understanding the four types of product work (Feature, Growth, Scaling, and Product Market Fit Expansion), each with their own processes, measures of success, and strategies. To go deeper on this topic, join our Product Strategy program.

The Word of Mouth Coefficient

By: Yousuf Bhaijee; Ex VP Growth at Eaze
Featuring: Tomas Pueyo, VP Growth at CourseHero; Phil Carter, Dir Growth at Quizlet; Michael Taylor, Co-Founder of Ladder

Word of mouth is critical to growing a successful product. Despite its importance, word of mouth has always been hard to measure and therefore hard to influence. This results in teams ignoring it, leaning on paid channels, and becoming over relient on less efficient channels. In this post, Yousuf defines a new metric, the Word of Mouth Coefficient, to help with these challenges.

Good Experiment, Bad Experiment

By: Fareed Mosavat; EIR at Reforge, Ex Dir Product Growth at Slack, Instacart, Zynga

Great product and growth teams must develop a culture of strategic, rigorous experimentation. When done right, experimentation is a critical tool to move your business and your understanding of customers forward. Unfortunately, many teams use experimentation in misguided ways. In this post, Fareed shows what great experimentation looks like when contrasted with bad experimentation.

Why Figma Wins

By: Kevin Kwok; Reforge Partner, Ex Greylock Partners

Companies are a sequencing of growth loops. While it’s possible to stumble into an initial core loop that works, the companies that are successful in the long term are the ones that can repeatedly find the next loop. This is the core of Reforge's Advanced Growth Strategy program. In this post, Reforge Partner Kevin Kwok breaks down how Figma has mastered the sequence of multiple growth loops to hit their break out growth.

Retention In The Times of Covid

By: Fareed Mosavat; EIR at Reforge, Ex Slack; Elena Verna; EIR at Reforge, Ex Malwarebytes/SurveyMonkey; and Bangaly Kaba; EIR at Reforge, Ex Instagram, Instacart

Covid dropped a bomb on almost every company's growth plans. The Reforge team took the time this year to provide some guidance on how to think about growth in turbulent times, starting with retention. We broke it down into answering three questions:

  1. How have the habits of my customer base changed? How might they change going forward?
  2. How has usage of my customer base changed or how is it changing?
  3. As a result of #1 and #2, which input (Activation, Engagement, Resurrection) should I invest resources to improve?

From Senior Marketer to Marketing Leader

By: Brittany Bingham; VP Marketing at Guru; and Mark Fiske; Ex VP Marketing at Credit Karma

There are many types of marketers and countless marketing career paths. But for marketers in technology companies, one profile increasingly fills the ranks of rising VPs and CMOs: the marketer who starts with a single acquisition or retention channel before broadening scope and responsibility beyond that channel. Mark and Brittany both made that climb and can say without a doubt that it was the most difficult step in their career and have seen countless others fail at this point. In this post, they break down the canyon that exists and how to cross it.

Monetization vs Growth Is A False Choice

By: Elena Verna; Ex SVP Growth at Malwarebytes, SurveyMonkey; and Dan Hockenmaier; CEO Basis One, Ex Thumbtack

It's not about growth or monetization, it's about how monetization feeds growth as part of a holistic system. As we spent hundreds of hours creating the Monetization + Pricing program, we found ourselves coming back again and again to the same conclusions:

  1. Acquisition costs continue to increase due to limited channels, increased competition, and disappearing data tailwinds.
  2. This means that Monetization is a more important lever in our Growth Model. There is a false belief that Monetization comes at the expense of growth, this is incorrect.
  3. Despite this, Monetization doesn't get put on equal footing as Acquisition and Retention due to a number of internal company issues that create friction.
  4. These factors create a growth opportunity for teams that are willing to embrace the inherent challenges and put Monetization on an equal footing with Acquisition and Retention.

This post dives deeper on each of these elements.

The Kindle and The Fire

By: Casey Winters,; CPO at Eventbrite, Reforge Partner

Entrepreneurs ask Casey about how to grow all the time. They ask about SEO, about virality, and about increasing conversion, about onboarding. They ask about hiring local teams, building up new functions, and hiring executives. What almost all of them miss is that all of this is context specific on what stage of company they are in. Casey says there are two types of growth strategies: non-scalable strategies to get to scale and scalable strategies. He has come to call these kindle strategies and fire strategies. In this post, Casey explains more how to think about them.

Becoming A Peak Product Manager

By: Ravi Mehta; EIR at Reforge, Tinder, Facebook, Tripadvisor

Learn more from Ravi in our upcoming new Product Leadership program. In this post, Ravi helps clarify how to think about the different abilities needed to go from APM all the way to VP Product with a 12 competency framework.

How To Create Content Communities

By: Andy Johns; Partner at Unusual Ventures, Wealthfront, Quora, Twitter, Facebook

Learn more from Andy in a new upcoming program to be announced soon. In this post, Andy breaks down the content growth loop similar to the one he worked on while at Quora. He talks through the various stages and how levers like personalization, notifications, digest emails, and more play into the loop.

Accelerate your development, expand your abilities, and become the leader you are meant to be.

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Brian Balfour