@andrewchen

Get the newsletter · 2018 essays (PDF) · Featured · Recent

Polite growth

In every startup’s pursuit of growth, it’s important to remember that first and foremost we’re looking to create something that’s sustainable. Building something big and impactful takes years, and your distribution strategy will need to weather the passage of time. If you slash and burn your customers, your platform, or your product design, it’s a matter of time before your active users curve jumps the shark.

This means that your growth strategy has to be “polite” and be considerate of all the parties involved:

Customer-friendly
If people love your product, it’ll growth more quickly and be more viral. Ultimately if you put the same viral mechanics on a photo-sharing product versus a tax returns-sharing product, the former will always do better because no one wants to share their tax returns, not even presidential candidates. Tapping into an emotional desire to share and communicate is a prerequisite for building a long-term product.

Don’t try to force people to do what they don’t want to do, all in the first session. You’ll burn out your audience, fail to retain an active userbase, and while that might look good in the first few months, over time your churn will beat your growth rate. That leads to a rapid decline, which you don’t want.

Platform-friendly
This decade has been amazing for platforms. 20 years ago, it was just Windows. Today, you can build for iOS, Android, Facebook, Twitter, and many other emerging platforms are coming out. Each platform wants something different from you, and you have to learn to play by the rules to have a lasting relationship with them.

Obviously this means you can’t burn their users – that’s the worst thing to do. Dumb, too. Some platforms want more engagement and user-generated content, and others want ad revenues. Learn what it is that they want, and make sure your product helps them as much as it helps you.

Product-friendly
And finally, it’s important that your growth mechanics don’t compromise the design of your product. When you first started writing your product, I’m sure there were big aspirations about what it could do and what good it would ultimately accomplish for the world. Halfway along the way, when it’s time to work on marketing and growth, it can be easy to overreact and compromise your core design. Products meant for classy audiences suddenly turn into quiz apps. Ultimately, to stay excited about your product over the course of years, it’s gotta stay in a sweet spot – you can’t let growth destroy that.

There’s a lot more I want to write about on getting sustainable growth- everything from how to use A/B testing not to make a number go up, but how to make a number stay unchanged while you iterate on the feature qualitatively. I’d also like to write about the quantitative effect of overusing notifications because spam tests well short-term, but destroys your response rates long-term. Those, and many other topics, coming up soon.

Also, if you’re interested, I’ve written before about the importance of balancing growth and other factors in previous posts: You don’t need a growth hacker, How do I balance user satisfaction versus virality?, When does high growth not imply product/market fit?, and Know the difference between data-informed and data-driven.

 

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.

Views expressed in “content” (including posts, podcasts, videos) linked on this website or posted in social media and other platforms (collectively, “content distribution outlets”) are my own and are not the views of AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) or its respective affiliates. AH Capital Management is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any special skill or training. The posts are not directed to any investors or potential investors, and do not constitute an offer to sell -- or a solicitation of an offer to buy -- any securities, and may not be used or relied upon in evaluating the merits of any investment.

The content should not be construed as or relied upon in any manner as investment, legal, tax, or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any charts provided here are for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, I have not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. The content speaks only as of the date indicated.

Under no circumstances should any posts or other information provided on this website -- or on associated content distribution outlets -- be construed as an offer soliciting the purchase or sale of any security or interest in any pooled investment vehicle sponsored, discussed, or mentioned by a16z personnel. Nor should it be construed as an offer to provide investment advisory services; an offer to invest in an a16z-managed pooled investment vehicle will be made separately and only by means of the confidential offering documents of the specific pooled investment vehicles -- which should be read in their entirety, and only to those who, among other requirements, meet certain qualifications under federal securities laws. Such investors, defined as accredited investors and qualified purchasers, are generally deemed capable of evaluating the merits and risks of prospective investments and financial matters. There can be no assurances that a16z’s investment objectives will be achieved or investment strategies will be successful. Any investment in a vehicle managed by a16z involves a high degree of risk including the risk that the entire amount invested is lost. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by a16z is available at https://a16z.com/investments/. Excluded from this list are investments (and certain publicly traded cryptocurrencies/ digital assets) for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly. Past results of Andreessen Horowitz’s investments, pooled investment vehicles, or investment strategies are not necessarily indicative of future results. Please see https://a16z.com/disclosures for additional important information.