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Building a Company-Wide Growth Culture

A former Dropbox executive and current CEO and founder of GrowthHackers, Sean Ellis knows a lot about building a company culture that supports growth. In order to experiment, bring in new ideas and build on those idea, you’ll need buy-in from leadership and a dedicated team. Here’s how he does it.

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Special thanks to Jason Lemkin of SaaStr for putting on this conference and giving us the chance to publish these summaries.

In a nutshell:

  • No matter where you are as a company, you should be investing in growth.
  • Source ideas from the entire company. The ICE framework (impact, cost and ease) can help prioritize new ideas.
  • Set up a dedicated growth team so that you aren't tempted to pull people into other projects.

Investing in growth

Even if you’re successful today, Ellis warns, you may not be tomorrow. So even (maybe especially) when money’s rolling in, you should be investing in new ideas. To be successful, you need organization-wide buy-in. Source ideas from the entire company, and rank them using the ICE metric (rating each idea’s impact, cost and ease on a scale of 1-10, and averaging the three ratings). At Dropbox, sourcing new ideas and ranking them via the ICE method produced the “share” link on Dropbox files - which quickly helped the storage company go viral.

How to run a growth team

Once you have a backlog of ideas, Ellis recommends setting up a dedicated growth team. That way, someone has ownership of the ideas and is invested in sourcing new ones; it also prevents growth engineers and designers from being pulled off to work on other projects. He suggests a team consisting of a growth master (usually a product manager) and an ad-hoc team consisting of a key executive (like the CEO or head of product) along with a designer, engineer, analyst, etc. as needed. A growth master can sometimes be too aggressive, Ellis says, and that’s the way it should be. The executive’s role on the growth team is to rein the growth master in when necessary, show organizational support for the team, allocate resources and provide fresh ideas.

Here’s his suggested weekly agenda for the growth team:

  • 15 min: growth metrics, issues, and opportunities
  • 10 min: review last week’s sprint
  • 15 min: key lessons learned from last week’s tests
  • 15 min: choose tests for this week’s sprint - people nominate ideas and give a 1 min pitch on the ones they favor.
  • 5 min: check growth of idea backlog and make sure the ideas are flowing

What to do when you’re on the growth team

Ellis recommends that the growth team test on all the pirate metrics (acquisition, activation, retention, referral and revenue - AARRR) and optimize for rapid testing. Assign a product manager for each test (not necessarily the growth master), allow sufficient time for tests to run, and analyze the results. Be sure to systematize your testing, act on your learnings, and share all results - both successful and failed hypotheses - with the rest of your organization, so they’re encouraged to submit more ideas.

Finally, Ellis says, focus on value delivery. It’s easy to get obsessed with processes or numbers, but if your goal is to drive sustainable growth, you can’t go wrong.

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