How to Build A Growth Team: Lessons Learned from Slack

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Have you heard? Slack is an almost unprecedented success story. With well over 10 million daily active users, and an impressive trial-to-paid conversion rate of 30%, it’s clear that the company is doing something right. More than that, they’re the fastest-growing SaaS of all time.

How do they continue their growth trajectory, long after most other companies plateau? The secret might be the development and implementation of a Growth Team.

Growth is a Team Sport

While it may be a popular assumption that a company simply needs a “growth hacker”, successful companies like Slack understand growth is actually a team sport. By laying all hopes on one person, you may be setting your company up for failure. What happens when that individual doesn’t deliver? This is especially damaging to startups facing their first tumultuous years of unpredictable revenue. The margin for error is razor-thin.

One person will not be enough to understand the full scope of the company or drive meaningful growth. This is why it’s smart to implement a Growth Team.

Andrew Chen, partner at Andreeson Horowitz, outlines 5 potential roles for a Growth Team, including:

  • Growth Product Managers (focusing on an experiment roadmap)
  • Growth Engineers (for implementing experiments)
  • Growth Marketers (flexible individuals with niche channel expertise)
  • Growth Data Analysts (who can draw insights from growth experiments)
  • Growth Designers (with focus on fast turnaround vs. perfect design)

As you can see, ideally, Growth Teams span the breadth of the company. From marketing to product development, the entirety of an organization is leveraged to find ways to build an upward trajectory.

While there are different ways to integrate a Growth Team into a company’s structure, it’s important to make sure growth is woven across various departments, and beyond marketing campaigns.

A smart Growth Team may even try to integrate end-users. One of Slack’s enduring successes is using customer feedback as a roadmap – responding to every email and re-imagining help queries as opportunities. The company used its own customers to build a better end product that ultimately continues to drive its popularity. In a clever strategic move, they integrated users into their Growth Team and used them to help guide the company’s trajectory. In a word: they listened. To everyone. And found patterns in feedback that led to a roadmap for explosive growth.

The Product Cycle Re-Imagined

A typical product cycle might look something like this: you add a feature, launch it, celebrate an initial spike, inevitably followed by flattened growth. This leads you to seek out other (new) features to work your way back to that coveted growth spike again.

What Slack learned early on, and continues to draw its focus to, are not constant new features to drive growth spikes. Rather, they focus on using KPIs for a kind-of product growth scientific hypothesis. The Growth Team uses data to pose questions, prioritizes tests, lays out controlled experiments, and analyzes the findings to zero in on new growth opportunities.

Slack also started with a bottom-up approach to marketing, focusing on individuals, as opposed to entire companies. This allowed them to circumvent CIOs or upper management that take longer to make decisions. But, as an entirely new form of centralized messaging, it also meant convincing individual employees, then teams, to buy into their methodology first.

Since the “team collaboration software” scene didn’t yet exist, it meant Slack didn’t need to focus on constantly releasing new features to beat out the competition. Instead, energy was spent on product training and market education. That way, individuals could learn the Slack system and how it simplified communication and workflow. Once individuals recruited teams to the Slack experience, the teams spread Slack like gospel throughout organizations. And, by keeping things simple while providing product training, new users could quickly pick up and integrate Slack into their workflow.

Have Your Team Consider Reach Beyond Typical Users

Traditionally, product teams focus their energy on an end-user and tend to stop there. They want to make the best possible product for a particular audience in mind. But Growth Teams, like Slack’s, think bigger.

Beyond core users, active users and even registered users, there’s a whole slew of potential for growth from unique users all the way through to users who may have never heard of the product before. You just have to figure out how to reach them.

Slack was able to push far beyond its user base in the early days of the company due to a strong focus on word-of-mouth. In fact, early success was based on user acquisition gained via friends and fans that posted to social media with glowing product reviews. These reviews weren’t just raving about a fantastic product. They were responses to the care Slack took in acknowledging every comment and inquiry. Slack went further still. They then treated the feedback as data to find constructive ways to continually improve the product. And, because the word of mouth was so powerful, Slack jumped across industries, avoiding the curse of remaining a “niche solution”.

Understand That Growth, Marketing, and Product are All Different, But Interrelated

It’s typical to lump growth in with marketing – after all, isn’t it marketing’s main goal to improve reach and build a customer base? However, growth also falls under product. One of the reasons many companies are constantly releasing new add-ons or iterations is to grow a customer base by having more “solutions” on hand.

Although there is overlap, the best way to think about each individual area is this:

  • The Product grows the core value
  • Marketing draws a target/niche audience to the Product
  • Growth gets as much as of the target audience as possible to experience the core value of the product quickly

As growth relies so much on both marketing and product, it makes sense then, to focus on developing a Growth Team that can integrate both. Companies that are able to create teams that work to marry marketing and product development are better able to envision how overall growth can be achieved.

Slack’s approach to growth was, surprisingly, do not have a sales team

The company developed a product-first strategy that focused on sign-ups. And sign-ups were frictionless because they allowed any user to use Slack for free forever. They also developed a brand voice that sounded like a co-worker or trusted friend – a helpful and playful style with purposely informal “knock-knock” notifications and other fun features. Ultimately, they marketed Slack as a fun time-saver for workflow streamlining (something any office worker could get behind). But it also didn’t hurt Slack was free in perpetuity, virtually eliminating pushback based on budget restrictions. After all, only those who wanted more storage or specific plugins had to pay. And they did it all without having to explain Slack’s value via expensive marketing initiatives and without a sales team because its most marketable qualities were baked right into the product itself.

Ultimately, the biggest takeaway here is that it takes a team to nurture growth. Prioritizing the marriage of marketing and product development will help create a more holistic user experience. And if you focus on the users, they will talk about their experiences. The positive feedback loop can help you zero in on better iterations and bigger sign-up numbers. But it will take a team dedicated to growth to get you there.

Creating a Growth Team is just one part of the equation. Finding Growth Capital is another. At Venbridge, we’re here to work with startups to help navigate SR&ED, Interactive Media Tax Credits, Grant Financing and more so they’re able to invest in important areas of the business like building a Growth Team.

Contact us today to see how we can work with your team to get the funding you need to succeed.

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