50 Principles for Startup Marketers

Principles to help modern marketers grow software products faster and accelerate their careers

I wrote these Principles after 10 years of reading and applying many lessons on growing and marketing software from incredible practitioners. These Principles were revised and edited down 50+ times after years of growth experiments, failures, and successes.

Many of these ideas aren’t my own, but I can vouch for their effectiveness. Applying these Principles is how I:

  • Became the CMO of a $50M+ annual revenue software company (joined at $8M)

These Principles are for software entrepreneurs and marketers:

  • Looking to focus on less things, but the right things for growth

Macro Marketing

1. Successful marketing means mastering scale and unit economics

2. Scale means a channel or tactic’s potential for customers

3. Unit economics means a channel or tactic’s cost vs. revenue and profit per customer

4. A common mistake with unit economics is only measuring cost to acquire and not cost to reactivate or retain; all matter for healthy growth

5. When it comes to finding successful marketing channels, start with Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth

Marketing Mix

6. A strong marketing mix includes Awareness, Consideration, and Conversion

7. Maximizing your bets across all three with good unit economics and quick ratios is how to never get fired

  • Awareness: prospective customers know who you are

8. Direct ROI on awareness marketing is usually unrealistic if you’re trying to build for real scale (thanks for this one, Nate)

  • If you don’t spend on awareness, you risk an insufficient # of prospects (i.e. people aware and/or considering) to convert and continue considerable growth

Customer Types and Real Growth

9. The most important formula for growth is Active = New + Reactivated + Retained

10. Active customers is an output metric and often given too much focus

11. Only focusing on Actives can also lead to Fake Growth

12. Fake Growth is a favorable CMGR where lots of customer acquisition masks unhealthy churn

13. New, reactivated, and retained customers are input metrics and often not given enough focus

14. New, reactivated, and retained are mutually exclusive, and thus, a wonderful way to understand strengths and weaknesses to growth

  • New customers use your product for the first time in [insert period]

15. Your marketing mix must balance each customer type if maximizing healthy growth is the goal

16. Social Capital’s Quick Ratio is the best most honest way to assess product-market fit (P/M fit) and real growth

17. Marketing’s purpose pre and post P/M fit are very different

18. Pre P/M fit, marketing is a tool to drive customers to learn how to achieve P/M fit; if you try to grow pre P/M fit, you’ll light money on fire

19. Post P/M fit, marketing is a tool to drive customer growth

20. The best engine for growth is a great Product, not Marketing (i.e. strong Quick Ratios)

21. If a company perceives Marketing as the only team responsible for growth, run

22. A common marketing spend mistake is spending too much on New, not enough on Reactivated, and not knowing what you spend on Retained (i.e. Are you wasting money on already returning customers?)

Growth Stages, Frameworks, and Process

23. There’s four stages to growth

  • Making something enough people want and will pay for

24. The best old school framework to measure what matters is Dave McClure’s Startup Metrics for Pirates (AARRR)

  • Acquisition: prospective customers come to your product

25. Good marketers do acquisition; unicorn marketers do all five (AARRR)

26. The best new school framework to measure what matters is Brian Balfour, Casey Winters, Kevin Kwok, and Andrew Chen’s Growth Loops

  • Loops answer, “How does this product grow?” on more macro level than funnel frameworks

27. The best framework to prioritize an individual or team’s time is ICE (Impact, Confidence, and Effort)

  • Impact: if this works, how big can it be for profit, revenue, customers, etc.?

Growth Teams

28. Smaller startups shouldn’t have growth teams

29. The most important attributes (*not skills) of Growth Teams are curiosity, humility, discipline for process, grit, and a belief in idea meritocracies

  • Curiosity: the best test ideas usually come from customers. The next best ones usually come from reading, reflection, and inspiration outside the office

30. Generally, a solid growth team makeup is a team lead, technical marketer, full stack developer, full stack designer, and a data analyst (that’s experienced and technical enough to moonlight as a QA engineer)

  • Team lead: keeps morale high (hard since most experiments fail) and maintains discipline for process

31. Growth teams need buy-in from the top. If it’s not there, don’t bother.

32. Starting and finishing tests regularly is almost everything to start; forget about results

33. The formula for growth = # tests run * average test impact” * test success rate

34. # tests run is the only one fully in your control; hence why it’s almost everything to start

35. Growth is optional

Easy Wins

36. Brian Balfour’s Building a Growth Machine is how you build a constant engine for new, good ideas

37. Great tactics come from great process, but there’s a handful that usually work (below)

38. Apply Pareto to all parts of the customer lifecycle (i.e. lead gen, sales, product roadmaps, support, etc.)

39. Conversions congruence (i.e. Copy, Design, etc. that matches on ads and landing pages) will drive more efficient spend (linked are my favorite one-stop sources)

40. Fixing bugs in core flows is usually the highest ICE-scoring opportunity for post-P/M fit products

41. Activate first, educate later

42. Personalize whenever possible

43. In other words, subscribe to Andrew Chen’s The Minimalist Funnel when it comes to product and activation

  • Strip things down and ask for as little as possible

44. Use logistical regressions to find your product’s AHA Moment

  • Logistical regressions are how Facebook discovered “7 friends in 10 days” was their growth engine

45. Spend 80% of time doubling down on channels and tactics with good scale and unit economics and 20% of your time testing new ones (the others will become saturated and less effective in time)

Attribution

46. Google Analytics is usually sufficient for attribution for early stage companies

47. The best alternatives to last-touch attribution that tell a more accurate story of a channel’s value are Shapley Value and Markov Chain

48. Brand and offline marketing channels are measurable: you can do a lot with unique codes, landing pages, and post-order surveys and indices

People, Culture, and Management

49. Radical candor is the best way to manage

50. Good managers do three things: listen, care, and follow through

Software CMO, former VP of Growth. Northwestern Kellogg MBA lecturer. Determined and steady against hard problems.