The First Step To Building A Growth Machine – Brianbalfour

The internet loves to fawn over stories of growth curves that look like the below.  As a result everyone tends to focus their attention on what happened right before it looks like growth started to explode.  Once again, looking for that single thing that unlocked an explosion of growth.  


When I meet new companies to advise them on growth, the number one question I get is “What tactic should I use to grow my business?”  At first I would try to give an answer.  But it never felt right.  After all, I just met this person and knew next to nothing about their business or customers.  Even more important though I started to realize that the question typically stemmed from the search for a secret, hack, or tip about a growth tactic that was going to unlock all of their growth problems.

My answer to that question since has changed. I shrug my shoulders and say “I have no idea.”  My response now is typically met with a look in their face like I just knocked the wind out of their sails.    After I leave the awkward silence hanging for a few moments I follow up to tell them to stop looking for tactics first, and start focusing on establishing a growth process.

Process?!?!?  Really?

There are 4 reasons why I emphasize process first and tactics second.

1.  Growth Is The Sum Of A Lot Of Small Parts

The internet loves to fawn over stories of growth curves that look like the below.  As a result everyone tends to focus their attention on what happened right before it looks like growth started to explode.  Once again, looking for that single thing that unlocked an explosion of growth.

What we should really be interested in were what were all the things they did before that point in the curve?  What are all the things they did after to keep that growth going?  How did they find all those things?


The reality of growth is that there is never a silver bullet.  This doesn’t mean you won’t have experiments that produce outlier results.  You absolutely will.  Most outliers result from combined learnings of a bunch of previous experiments.  They come from knowing your channel, product, and customer better than anyone else on the market and taking informed risks based on those learnings.

People who tend to focus on Tactics first, tend to also look for silver bullets.  They jump around to the newest and greatest tactic or channel they heard of searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow rather than putting the time in to learn from experiments and make smart decisions based on those learnings.  They scratch the surface in a bunch of different areas, but never drill deep enough to find the oil.

Bottom line:  You need a process that is going to continually generate new growth ideas, test them efficiently, learn from them effectively and use those learnings to navigate towards unlocking continual growth.

2.  Rate Of Change Is Accelerating

If you look at the just the last 18 months, every major customer acquisition channel has gone through some foundational changes.  Here are just a few of the channels with some of the changes:


What worked on Facebook 3 months ago, doesn’t work today.  What works today, probably won’t work in 90 days.  Same goes for almost every major channel.  Some are slower to change than others, but there is one sure thing that they will change.

If you look at a macro level over the past 15 years you’ll find two important trends.  One, new customer acquisition channels are appearing at faster rates (the below graph only plots viral channels so it is actually more).  Two, the cycles of effectiveness are happening much faster.

NOTE:  The below image was created by the brilliant James Currier of Ooga Labs.


The rate of change in the customer acquisition world is fast, and it is increasing in speed.  Growth teams are going to need to become better and faster at the same time to stay ahead of competition.

Bottom line:  Tactics become outdated extremely quickly.  You need a process that can continually adapt your tactics to the changing environment.

3.  What Works For You, Won’t Work For Others

If you are like me, you probably read a lot of material about what others are doing for growth.  There is one key when doing this.  Take everything you read as inspiration, not prescription.

Your Audience Is Different
Your Product Is Different
Your Customer Lifecyle Is Different
Your Business Model Is Different

Your BUSINESS is different plain and simple.

Bottom line:  You need a process that is going to uncover the unique combination of things that works for your product, your audience, and your business model.

4.  You Need A Machine

Success for a growth team is not to find a single successful growth tactic.  Success is building a growth machine.  A growth machine has three components:

1.  Scalable
2.  Predictable
3.  Repeatable


A machine is built to produce an ever growing engaged user base.  The machine process the tactics.  The process makes the machine.

Bottom line:  Tactics first is putting the cart before the horse.  You need a process that will help you build a scalable, predictable, and repeatable growth machine.

Elements Of A Good Process

We use a specific process that I created which is part old school Scientific Method, part Lean Startup, part my own touches.  There is no one right or perfect growth process.  The important part is just to have one, stick to it, and improve it over time.  I do believe every growth process should have some key elements:

1.  A way to set big goals against the areas that impact your growth the most
2.  A structured way to continually come up with growth ideas and experiments
3.  A way prioritize to those experiments
4.  A way to efficiently design those experiments
5.  Analysis of ever experiment whether it succeeded or failed
6.  Sharing of learnings across team and implementing them back into the experiment list.

Get those 6 things right and I think you are on the right way to success.

What’s So Special About Process?

I get this question a lot.  I also get asked for templates of all the docs that we use.  To be honest, I don’t think any of what we do is special.  Success from a growth process comes from having the diligence to stick to the process, because 90%+ don’t.  The process is hard and it can be boring. It’s easier to divert from the process to chase another shiny looking object.  Don’t worry about following my process exactly or having the exact documents I use.  Focus on establishing the above 6 elements in a process that works for you and your team.



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