The key to startup growth: what I’ve learned in 8 years helping startups grow


I’m passionate about growing businesses. Over the past 8 years, I’ve been able to work with some great entrepreneurs and teams as a growth hacker, consultant, and now, founder of growth agency Polaris Growth. In that time, I’ve seen many companies grow exponentially and many entrepreneurs stall and struggle with the growth process.

And growth is a process, not just a result. Which is good news because that means that growing your business doesn’t have to be a struggle, with clear goals and a clear process to get there.

In this reflection, I’d like to share what I’ve learned along the way. The big lesson, the key to business growth: The prerequisite to high growth is clarity (and that clarity comes in several forms).


1.       Clarity of goals

As an entrepreneur, you already know the importance of clear goals. But are you a goals ninja? Every entrepreneur makes a yearly goal. That's what we call a North Star. But the connection between the North Star and marketing goals / individual goals is often missed.  The process to connect them is as follows:

  • Break the North Star up into a maximum of 1-5 goals.

  • To create ambitious, but attainable goals have your Marketing team review the funnel metrics and verify that the are achievable.

  • The next step is to translate the goals into 1-5 measurable KPIs, that you track and hold people accountable for. Could everyone on your team recite their goals and KPIs if asked on the spot?

  • Everyone should have a personal goal and know what the North Star is to make sure their personal goals and company objectives are aligned.

Growth goals need to be broken into quarterly objectives to be actionable and shared so that your growth team can focus on delivering those key metrics.

Key takeaway: talk to your marketer to get projections about your assumptions on the North Star.


2.       Clarity of measurement (DATA)

As a growth hacker, I used to track everything and then see if insights could be mined from the mountain of data retrospectively. Now I proactively identify what needs to be measured first and make sure that tracking is in place. Use actual data to see if you are reaching your goals.

Excellent measurement allows you to be customer-centric, designing better growth experiments that are more likely to work because they’re driven by customer feedback and behaviour. Always base a growth experiment on insights from data. Don't come up with experiments that don't link to customer insights.

Key takeaway: Think about essential data to collect (about your customer journey) and make sure to use that data in your daily practice.


3.       Clarity around strategy – knowing what you’re doing, and what you’re not doing

All opportunities are not made equal. Ideas need to be evaluated and prioritised, with low-impact initiatives falling down the hierarchy. It’s easy to get lost in a sea of opportunity – where you have so many opportunities to pursue you forget to take one of them.

An effective evaluation process is key, followed by growth meetings to prioritise and agree on projects.

Growth meetings are designed to work towards goals using the collected data - to see if we are getting closer to our goals. Experiments are to influence the KPIs. With the KPI we see if we are getting closer to highest goal (North Star Metric).

Key takeaway: do “less but better” and focus on the few things that actually make an impact to the North Star.


4.       Clarity around tactics – expertise

Is your growth strategy often failing at the execution stage? This is probably due to a lack of tactical knowledge. When I worked as a growth hacker at Sanoma Innovation Lab, I had the pleasure of being part of the best growth team I’ve seen.

Why was the team so good?

We were a multi-disciplinary team consisting of a project manager, designer, developer, content marketeer, growth hacker and a (unicorn) customer researcher. The result was a combination of speed AND quality – with rapid experimentation creating rapid feedback loops, without any compromise in quality of execution.

Key takeaway: Have a multi-disciplinary team that is capable of rapid experimentation (linked to the North Star).


5.       Clarity around knowledge – knowing what you don’t know – and hiring that knowledge

The best entrepreneurs I’ve worked with are great at knowing when they are an expert and when they are not. When I worked with Jorik Schroder of Hotel Gift, I noticed a talent for making that distinction. The result was that he brought in expertise where needed and he made decisions based on the knowledge of experts. That’s why HotelGift grew incredibly fast.

Key takeaway: Understand you can't be an expert on everything. Choose the best expert you can afford and let her make the decisions about the things you are not an expert on.


6.       Clarity around process

Growth is a process and so are business operations. Without naming names, I’ve seen companies fail to grow because they don’t understand their business operations enough to make them efficient and scalable.

The result? No time for growth. And if it did come, things would break.

If you 10x your business, you 10x the throughput of your processes – at that point time-consuming solutions will break down. At Polaris, we use a tool called Process Street to automate and map the processes.

Key takeaway: Map the operations and have clear processes in place to be able to scale the business operations when growth comes.


7.       Clarity around costs

High-growth entrepreneurs understand that building a business requires an investment. And they’re not afraid to make that investment. Testing assumptions with experimentation is key. Because we don't know if it's true, experiments are executed. Executing experiments costs money. But operating based on the hope or luck that an assumption is true can cost you even more money. And when something works, you need to distribute the product or service. Again, we don't know which marketing channels work for your business. Testing and optimising new marketing channels costs money. Experiments can break. Experiments can fail. That's the whole point why we're testing in the first place. Make sure you have enough resources to fuel your growth.

Key takeaway: Don't expect all experiments to win, otherwise you wouldn't be testing in the first place.


Helping entrepreneurs get clarity

So, that leads me to where I am today. After a long journey, with many ups and downs, I’m still in love with the process of growing businesses. But now I have a framework.

Growth doesn’t have to be hard. If you have clarity on growth and the right tools to execute.

After attaining these insights, my mission is to share this framework with other entrepreneurs and help them get the clarity they need to grow their business and achieve their vision.

That’s why I started Polaris Growth, a growth agency that helps entrepreneurs get clarity around their North Star and pursue it.

I hope you got something from this reflection.

If you’re interested in getting absolute clarity on growth, then schedule a call on how we can help you.

Ewoud Uphof