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How we transformed our attitude to growth in 12 weeks

The "marketing" course that changed our team forever, and how we went from running 0 to 10 growth experiments a week.

Before we go any further, I’m writing about a course we’ve just graduated from as a team.

Often blog posts like this have a hidden agenda – to drive you to buy something.

Often there’s an affiliate link at the end, and the whole post is really written so that the author makes money.

Spolier alert: I’m not earning anything by writing and sharing this.

I’m writing this to digest and share what we’ve learnt in 12 weeks, and to hopefully use this as a reference to look back on internally.

I hope it could be useful for other founders in my position in the future.

Read on if you want to learn how the last 12 weeks changed GoSquared forever…

Clutching at straws

As we hit the new year, we were deep in lockdown, fully remote, and setting ourselves some aggressive goals for 2021.

The truth is, none of us knew how we would actually achieve these goals. The danger of “planning” and “goal setting” is sometimes that you spend so much time dreaming up where you want to be in a year’s time, that you forget to spend much time figuring out HOW you’ll get there.

We were in this position – ambitious, lofty goals, but we were no smarter at the start of 2021 than we were at the end of 2020. We had no new resources of team members to ignite changes or learn from, we were stumbling around in darkness of our Zoom calls thinking what we could to really step things up.

Then Beth on our team told me about a course

Slack messages with Beth about joining the course

If you’re anything like me, I can already hear you thinking: “Seriously? that’s your answer to growth? Go on a course and get told the answers?”

Sometimes you need a catalyst for change

Masters of growth

We’ve tried a lot to change internally – and we have changed tremendously over the years.

But we needed more change – scary change. Make or break the company change. We were hungry for new growth, new approaches, new ideas.

We’ve worked with “outsiders” before – consultants, mentors, conferences, and course. They’ve never been bad, but they’ve always had minimal impact on the business – the impact has either been on individuals (and so the lessons were isolated to a few people), or the change has been short term, or the lessons and impact just haven’t been that significant.

This time, it was different.

Beth’s recommendation wasn’t met with resounding agreement or excitement – another course, predominantly about marketing, another expense, and outcomes that are not crystal clear.

But we went for it – we found the budget, we jumped on board, and we said “let’s do this!”

The catalyst for change was external input – and it came in waves every week, relentlessly. The three people we spent most time with were Matt Lerner (ex PayPal, 500 Startups), Nopadon Wongpakdee (ex Ogilvy, Huddle, also 500 Startups), and our assigned coach Martin Adams (Codec).

What’s better than a catalyst for change? Three catalysts for change! Each of the three above, along with their surrounding team (Claire Barrance in the background co-ordinating everything) and the guest speakers each week brought a new perspective on us and helped us change and refresh our thinking every week.

Value delivery over revenue

Learning and customer development drive revenue growth

The course moved quickly. There was no hanging about – from week one we were getting our hands dirty as a team and diving into growth.

A core philosophy that stood out to us – shortly after defining our goals for the year to drive revenue up in the business: that it’s very hard, and not super smart to try to drive revenue directly as a team.

Instead we need to focus on delivering value to our customers – value that they ultimately be willing to pay for.

Matt Lerner made it clear to us with a very simple illustration – don’t focus on revenue directly, focus on learning from your customers, focus on customer engagement and iteratively finding what works for your customers, and then revenue will follow.

Defining your North Star Metric is hard but worth it

More revenue is a worse North Star Metric than something that measures Value delivery
Choosing your North Star Metric

One of the early sessions of the course was to define our North Star Metric.

It sounds embarrassing to say this now, but after 15 years of running GoSquared, we never had a clear North Star Metric.

We always knew we needed to build a great product, to win happy customers, to look after them, and to grow. But we had always defaulted to “SaaS businesses need monthly recurring revenue – grow that!” as our guiding light.

Not having a North Star Metric is a bigger problem than merely a missing metric on your dashboard.

What we realised was that defining our North Star was actually asking us some profound, deep questions – questions like “why do we even exist?” – things got real very quickly.

This phase of the course was one of the rockiest for us as a team – we’d never been forced to make this call, and if we didn’t make this decision we would be left in the dust and really struggle to continue to participate in the course.

Why were we struggling?

It’s not because we’re unique, we’re “not like everyone else”, or “we can skip this bit and come back to it later”.

No – it’s because we had been sheepish before. We had dodged making some tough calls. And we were paying the price every single day. One BIG call was making thousands of smaller decisions harder for everyone in the team every day.

After some gruelling conversations, late night phone calls, scribbles, debates, and coin tosses, we finally concluded on our North Star. We didn’t all agree at first, but we made the decision, and we ran with it. We pushed forward, and we started USING it to make decisions, to prioritise, to focus our energy.

Choosing our North Star has been fundamentally important to charting a more focused course for GoSquared.

Growth is a team sport

As a team grows over time, habits form – whether you like it or not.

A common theme is that small companies naturally take the shape of larger companies – just with fewer people. You form departments, you define roles and responsibilities, and you gain clarity and accountability.

But what you can lose is collaboration, energy, and a sense of “we’re all in this together”.

At the end of 2020 we had very clear areas of the business, but we were almost too structured and formalised for our size.

The growth course pushed us to throw everything in the air, and it was incredibly uncomfortable at times. Engineers writing copy on our landing pages, marketing people messing around in our product, and utter chaos. It was terrifying!

What we started to realise (and remind ourselves) though was great ideas can come from anywhere – no matter who you are in the team, or what your role is, you might have an idea that could change everything. We started to establish a process that could embrace those ideas and make them real – not shut them down.

12 weeks on, I have never seen more engagement and energy across the business.

To know that every single member of the team wakes up every day thinking about something they can do to grow our North Star Metric and impact our customers is heartwarming, humbling, and truly motivating.

Every one of the team has stepped up and developed skills as leaders, and executors, and extensively flexed their growth mindset.

Nobody knows what will work – experiment!

The course has driven us to think differently across the board. One of the most important process changes has been to approach growth differently.

If you’re anything like us, you meet on a regular schedule – likely weekly – to talk about growth in some capacity. We have done this for years. These calls have fluctuated from 30 minute updates, to two hour deep dives, with metrics, ideas, plans, strict agile methodology, and everything in between.

Our growth process has now changed dramatically, and a lot of it centres around our approach to experimentation. Just as the term “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product) is popular when building features and developing a product, we now approach most of our plans on growth with an “MVT” (Minimum Viable Test).

We have a backlog of experiments with hypotheses we are trying to prove. Our growth meetings are now razor sharp in focus – we share what we have learnt from the experiments we’ve been running, and we prioritise and decide which experiments we’ll put live for the following week.

What’s been fascinating from this approach is that we have learnt so much – critically, that we are terrible at guessing what will have an impact on our growth. What’s scary about this is that until now, all of our growth had come from us guessing what would be impactful and then pouring huge amounts of resource into doing those questionable activities to perfection.

What we’re realising is we’ve spent a lot of time perfecting growth initiatives that perhaps we should never have run at all, while not trying initiatives that could drive tremendous results.

No one can tell you what to do. The only way to figure out what will work is to try it – to experiment.

Theatre and celebration drives culture

A challenging aspect of participating in a course like this in early 2021 is that we’re all remote – there have been no “pow-wows” or team huddles or white-boarding sessions.

Everything has been done over Zoom, Slack, and Notion.

I feel incredibly fortunate to work with such an amazing team of driven people with huge energy and hunger. Everyone has thrown their heart and soul into this course.

But with so much change in such a short space of time, different people naturally have hit different challenges along the way. It’s not common to celebrate failure, it’s not common to change our homepage without some design input, it’s not common to update our user onboarding without thorough testing – but the course has pushed us to do all of these things and more.

What’s been drilled into me through the course is that as a leader – even of a relatively small team – you have to be extremely deliberate about driving the culture you want to see.

The term “theatrics” came up many times in discussions with our mentor, Martin – he underscored the importance of being very theatrical to celebrate the behaviours that we need to see: people making decisions, people putting their neck on the line and shipping, people running experiments that fail(!)

I am no actor, and I can barely remember what a theatre looks like after a year of lockdown, but I’ve been working on praising the actions our team are taking and highlighting what is GOOD even when things are bad.

An experiment that didn’t drive growth is still an experiment we ran. A misaligned image in an email is a design no-no, but if it’s part of an email series we’re testing out – it’s helping us grow.

We now focus on praising the behaviour that will make us successful, not just the results.

Our three biggest wins

It’s easy to celebrate experiments that went well – everyone wants to see growth, and the experiment based process has caused everyone to excitedly show up to report on the results of the experiments they own.

There’s nothing better than showing up at our growth sync with an experiment that truly moved the needle – especially when everyone just a week before had suspected it wouldn’t have any impact at all!

Three of our biggest wins:

  • We doubled conversion on our homepage after several inconclusive AB tests, by changing just two lines of copy. Lesson: don’t give up on an area of experimentation too early.
  • There’s demand for another “SaaS Launch Day” – just like we ran earlier in the year, but opening up for anyone to participate. Lesson: it’s easier to make something happen when you gain validation on the concept early.
  • We are now successfully capturing leads from our best blog posts with a new Lead Capture Prompt on those pages. Lesson: there’s a lot of things we had been able to do in the past, but framing things as an experiment, linked to our North Star Metric can help you action ideas that have existed in people’s heads for months.

Our biggest failures learnings

There is no such thing as a failed experiment – only lessons to learn from.

We have been trying to get out of the mindset that an unexpectedly bad outcome is bad – instead it’s almost always a good thing: we’ve learnt something about our messaging, channels, our customers, etc.

We’ve put a minimal amount of energy and time into something to find a result – the alternative would have been to invest dramatically more into the idea and still see it fail.

Every experiment is an opportunity to learn.

Three lessons from our failed experiments:

  • Visitors to our site often have a strong idea of what they are looking for – meaning that changing our homepage doesn’t always have the huge impact we expect on driving conversion to signup. Lesson: don’t over-invest in any area until you know if it’s a lever worth pulling.
  • A pricing page that was regarded as “one of the best pricing pages I’ve ever seen” by Matt Lerner performed worse than our previous pricing page that was decidedly less exciting. Lesson: even an expert opinion can judge it wrong sometimes – the truth is in the data.
  • Getting clear on your hypothesis is critical for running a valuable experiment – if the hypothesis is not clear, then it’ll be hard to learn from the experiment whatever the outcome. Lesson: focus on writing clear, well structured hypotheses.

What next

Hopefully you’ve found this rather lengthy piece helpful – it’s something we intend to reflect on whenever we ask ourselves what we learnt from the growth course in the future.

If you’ve been on the course, or something similar, we’d love to hear from you on Twitter!

Written by
James is CEO and one of the co-founders of GoSquared. He also likes to talk about design.

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