The Early Years

Hypergrowth: the early years is a series that examines the path to growth of the most successful tech companies. Through interviews with early employees, we’ll dissect the black box of early growth, so you can better understand the product decisions, channel exploration, and early hires that helped kickstart the growth journey in the early days.

Featured Episode

Adam Grenier has led growth teams through the steepest phases of a company’s hypergrowth trajectory. As the leader of growth marketing in the early days of Uber, he balanced managing the growth of hundreds of markets as individual identities, and balanced them across the portfolio. Since then, he’s led growth and product at Lambda School, advised companies as an ‘Expert in Residence’ at First Round Capital, and recently joined Reforge as an Entrepreneur in Residence. Suffice to say he’s seen growth challenges in many forms.

In this episode, you’ll hear how Adam: 1) used local and regional tactics to drive growth across hundreds of markets at uber, 2) leveraged craigslist in the early days to drive growth, soon becoming the biggest customer of job boards, 3) balanced individual P&Ls with a portfolio approach to growth, and much more.

  • Using market-specific tactics like offering milk and cookies to drivers to overcome associations with the DMV and get them comfortable with their model  
  • Leveraging Craigslist to kickstart driver growth and then used those insights to become the biggest customer of job boards overnight, eventually co-building products
  • In the beginning Uber prioritized overall growth over a perfect ROI analysis in the early days, prioritizing keeping the markets in balance and within efficiency guardrails
  • Uber operated the marketing team across 300+ different city-level P&Ls, owning the aggregate number while managing relationships with each individual team
  • Why the team used an integrated structure across product, design, engineering, data, and marketing to allow for faster timelines and growth
  • How to build a separate 0 to 1 team around experimentation and new channels
  • The wisdom around having a team that “cracks jokes at the end of the week instead of cracking the whip”
  • Don’t build a growth team to make up for a lack of something on existing teams, like marketing or product

Previous Episodes

Tido Carriero has had an amazing journey leading engineering and product at some of the most iconic companies. He started off on the engineering team at Facebook during the late stage start-up days, becoming a manager in just a few years, then he led product engineering at Dropbox, and most recently he was the VP of Engineering and the Chief Product Development Officer at Segment. From this vantage point, he’s had visibility and a driving role on growth and product development for products that have reached literally billions of users.

In this episode, you’ll hear how Tido: 1) helped grow Segment’s world class engineering team by starting with building the company and engineering brand, 2) leveraged Segment’s strength in open source and content to filter the list of candidates to find the best people, 3) experimented with multiple approaches to finding product-market fit for their newer products, 4) laid the groundwork for the enterprise business.

  • How Segment built a world class engineering team with distributed systems expertise to navigate early customer growth
  • Building brand recognition and an engineering brand for the company so every new engineering hire wasn’t a “fight for our lives” to hire.
  • Leveraging their strength in open source and content to find the right engineers, and moving away from tracking numbers to focusing on hiring efficiency
  • The multiple approaches Segment utilized to find product-market fit for their two new products, and what worked and didn’t
  • How Segment approached building the Enterprise business by leveraging the product and professional services to help legacy industries with digital transformation  

Early Stripe employees Krithika Muthukumar and Eeke de Milliano have had first row seats to one of the most legendary companies of our time. In her role as the first (and only) marketing leader at Stripe for the first few years, Krithika has led teams across marketing and design, launched all of Stripe’s major products, and helped the company expand into the enterprise business. Meanwhile, as the leader of the Business Operations function, Eeke incubated many of Stripe’s early GTM teams, and later led the machine learning product and Stripe radar.

In this episode, you’ll hear how Krithika and Eeke: 1) viewed product-market fit beyond Stripe’s core product, including the launch of Stripe Connect that helped the company power the on-demand service economy, 2) how Stripe viewed itself as a new-age VC in the early days (and still does!) when picking which customers to build for, and 3) how GTM teams were incubated out of the strategy group, and what worked and didn’t work with that strategy.  

  • How Stripe thought about product market fit beyond it’s core product, visualizing their user base in concentric circles that could extend into new products
  • The core insight that Stripe doubled down on — how developers were an underserved but important user at companies who were able to evangelize the product internally
  • Why Stripe was able to power the complicated, unique needs of the marketplace-on demand services model (Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Shopify, Instacart)
  • Why Stripe went beyond the traditional early stage company advice of just building for themselves, and focused on building for future customers
  • How Stripe saw themselves as a VC in the early days — taking bets on which of their customers would be the next big ones, and building the products they needed
  • How Stripe incubated their go-to-market teams out of their business operations group, and what worked and didn’t work with that strategy

Dan Hill has had a wide range of experiences growing companies — from founding his own to running the growth team at Airbnb. In his time at Airbnb, Dan led the payments, risk and trust, and growth and performance marketing teams, and towards the end of his tenure, led the team that managed the end to end guest experience. Most recently, he has started another company, Alma, focused on charitable giving.

In this episode, you’ll hear how Dan helped the team at Airbnb leverage referrals to jumpstart early growth, quantify customer experience metrics, and utilize an input and output metrics framework to measure success. Dan will also talk about the motto the growth team of the growth team and what it means, “love creates growth, not the other way around.”

  • How referrals helped jumpstart early growth and why “growth problems” went beyond optimizations and extended into customer happiness and experience on the platform  
  • Using an input and outputs metrics framework to measure success
  • Quantifying customer experience and quality metrics and how to build a culture that put importance on product quality in addition to business metrics  
  • How to align product growth and marketing across the organization with a shared set of frameworks and metrics, and the importance of the weekly product walk-through
  • Putting product quality safeguards in place without stifling bold thinking and creativity
  • Why the Airbnb growth team had the motto, “Love creates growth, not the other way around.”

Amirah Raveneau-Bey has deep experience in growing and scaling companies. In her time at Opendoor, Nerdwallet, and Trulia, she has grown go-to-market teams across sales, partnerships, operations, and growth.

In this episode, you’ll hear how Amirah helped the teams at Trulia create pent-up demand for products before they were released, build communities of superfans to evangelize new products, and and get crystal clear on their target customer. You’ll also learn how Nerdwallet teams pulled customer insights out of qualitative interviews to inform product direction, and how to “hire for today so you have a tomorrow.”

  • The process Trulia used to get crystal clear on their early target customers so they could get product-market fit.
  • How Trulia created pent up demand for a product before it was released and created anticipation within the agent community for new products
  • Building a community of superfans by making customers feel heard through conversations and events at Trulia
  • When pulling customer insights out of qualitative interviews changed the direction of product at NerdWallet
  • Why you need to hire for today so you have a tomorrow. How using an iterative, trial and error approach to hiring works for growth functions, and what to do if your team doesn’t scale

As a co-founder of Branch, Mada Seghete has helped create a new industry around mobile revenue management and architected the growth strategy of many companies. Today at Branch, Mada manages the marketing, market development, and strategy teams, helping Branch get their technology out to even more customers.

In this episode, you’ll hear the story of Branch, and how they started after several pivots, finally finding product market fit around solving a problem that the founders themselves faced. Mada will also share insights on finding product-market fit, leveraging content and organic search to grow your business, and how to measure and properly attribute your efforts across channels.

  • How Branch Metrics was started after several pivots, including a pets company, and ended up solving a pain point the founders faced
  • The hard and fast rule on finding product-market fit: why at least 8 out of 10 people need to say they want your product (Branch was 10 out of 10)
  • Getting to the early users through blood, sweat, tears and a little bit of strategic marketing
  • Leveraging content, thought leadership, and events to build pipeline and find customers at scale
  • Tips to boost organic search ranking of your pages through specific tactics around link building, social traffic, and great content
  • How to track impact and attribution down to tactics, touches, and even minutes spent by specific teams  
  • Hiring for growth, and how it differs across companies, and how it’s different from product, marketing, and other functions

No individual has had a more critical role in driving growth at early stage companies than Andy Johns. As an early growth leader at Facebook, Twitter, Quora, and Wealthfront, Andy has seen and experienced it all, and taken many companies beyond the S-curve of hypergrowth.

In this episode, you’ll hear about Andy’s approach to consolidating early customer conversations into a product strategy that wins both the hearts and the minds of prospective customers. He’ll also share his radical thoughts on paid marketing and how to build early growth teams.

  • How Andy picked companies and products to work on based on whether a product elicits an emotional reaction when picking your next company
  • Why you shouldn’t overindex on data, and how early and extensive customer conversations shaped the product and growth strategy at Wealthfront
  • The key customer insight that eluded the team at Wealthfront until they dug into qualitative data from customer conversations — and how they addressed it
  • The importance of “sell, design, build” when building for an enterprise audience; and how to know if potential customers are actually willing to pay
  • How Facebook balanced optimizations on the growth team with bigger product bets
  • What metrics should you use to measure product-market fit and how to think about business metrics vs customer success metrics
  • Why you shouldn’t care about CAC/LTV or invest time in paid marketing for early growth

As the one of the first marketing hires at two breakthrough companies, Square and Opendoor, Brett Browman has lived through every critical early decision on growth — from which channels to invest in first, to how to think about LTV, to what to look for in your first growth hire.

In this episode, you’ll hear more about early marketing decisions that influenced the growth trajectory of both companies, how Brett and team tested value props through a rapid testing framework, and what tactics worked at Square and Opendoor in the early days.

  • What was most important at Square and Opendoor for early growth
  • The importance of Square’s "Swipey hands" and ways to communicate product functionality
  • Key ratios to watch for growth metrics, and how to balance growth and margin by articulating a clear path to unit profitability
  • How to test early value props rapidly through the 80/20 rule and a rapid testing framework
  • What worked at Square (understanding of LTV and attribution), and didn’t (using pricing as a marketing lever, not diversifying growth channels early enough)
  • What worked at Opendoor (running many early channel tests and leaning into direct mail), and didn’t (invest in online marketing early enough)
  • Why you should look for breadth vs depth of experience when making your first growth hires