Startup Growth
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"In a year from now, you'll wish you started today."
– Karen Lamb

An advanced guide to growth.

This handbook is a comprehensive growth marketing reference. It leaves you with an agency-level proficiency in user acquisition and conversion optimization. 

It's probable you've never read growth advice as comprehensive nor as insightful as this. If you read everything and conclude I'm wrong, please call me a fool on Twitter!

What substantiates such a claim is that this is a distillation of my insights running a growth agency for many Y Combinator alumni. And it's modern as of mid-2017.

(Prior to my agency, I was VP of Marketing for Webflow. Prior to that, I developed and grew a popular open source library. )

Whereas most growth advice consists of simple walkthroughs and basic SEO tips, this handbook is different. You will learn all the things you suspected you never really understood about acquiring users and running high-volume ads.


You will learn:

Because there's a lot to cover, I've made this handbook hyper-concise: I get right to the point in each section. And I provide bullet-point summaries for easy referencing. 

Unlike most guides, there's zero rambling.

That said, this is a dense handbook — not a short blog post. Only read pages as they become relevant to your work. Otherwise, you'll never get through all the dry material.

Hop around in whichever order you wish.

About Julian

I spend months researching topics so I can write concise, book-quality handbooks.

If you were impressed with the quality of my Build Muscle handbook, you know I deliver on lofty claims of quality. I want you to have everything you need to kick ass.

I release all my work online, and for free, because books are required to hit page counts, which results in filler content that annoys readers.

My day job is running the growth agency, Bell Curve. (We're hiring great writers and growth marketers!) Before that, I built an open source animation engine, Velocity.js, and grew it into one of the biggest front-end libraries.

Say hello on Twitter ✌

How to use this handbook

This handbook isn't going to be exciting, but it will be extremely insightful. And it'll leave you in the best position you've ever been to grow a company efficiently.

The knowledge herein is applicable to companies of all sizes and verticals. I cover a range of introductory and advanced B2B and B2C tactics, making this appropriate for marketers of all skill levels.

If you're researching a startup ideaExpand

It’s important you read this handbook before choosing which startup idea you work on.

You need to know whether your prospective idea is well-suited for user acquisition. If you can’t envision this handbook's strategies being appropriate for your startup idea, you’re going to have an extremely hard time building a high-growth business.

This handbook will help you save months or years going down the wrong path. 

If your startup just launchedExpand

Growth plays a small but crucial role before you've proven your business' viability:

(The process of making these determinations falls under the umbrellas of Landing Pages, Copy, and A/B testing. I cover each in depth.)

In short, once your site is up, you fill the top of the customer funnel with visitors you can experiment on and survey. That's where user acquisition comes in. 

We'll learn how to professionally do it via paid ads, sales, and content marketing.

Your initial test audience will tell you a lot. I know you don't want to do the work — no one does — but it's the only way to face the reality of your market. You're going to email or call them to find out what they're willing to pay you for, and what value propositions most entice them.

If your company has achieved product-market fitExpand

Scalable, positive ROI marketing begins once you’ve proven your product is loved by its customers and that there's sufficient market demand. 

When you achieve this validation, you are said to have product-market fit.

If you preemptively scale paid user acquisition before product-market fit, you’re failing to develop infrastructure required for sustained, cost-efficient growth. 

A weak product-market fit also means your customers won't stay customers for long, so they'll generate less revenue over time, which means you can't afford to spend as much acquiring them. Not a good situation.

So I want you to think of growth as pouring fuel on an already-raging fire — not as a Band-aid for your problems.

With that warning out of the way: If your company has achieved product-market fit, you will get the most immediate value out of this handbook. Everything you need to know to pour fuel on the fire is here. 

And I walk you step-by-step through everything — leaving no questions unanswered.

If you're a managerExpand

It's critical executives know what growth entails so they can facilitate it.

Don't treat growth like a black box that engineers and marketers are responsible for. Growth is tightly coupled to most other business functions.

Not only will this handbook make you a better growth-oriented manager, it'll shed light on a growth marketer's skill set so you can better assess potential hires.

You’d be surprised how many companies hire “growth experts” who are actually brand marketers (people who focus on designing brand voice and generating buzz) with middling knowledge of user acquisition and conversion optimization.

This handbook will help you avoid unintentionally hiring these people.

Growth marketing

This also goes by the names performance marketing and growth hacking.

I don't know what growth marketing isExpand

Growth is the act of maximizing of revenue. This handbook focuses on growing companies who sell their products and services online.

"Online" is what distinguishes growth marketing from traditional marketing: Growth doesn’t concern itself with billboards, radio ads, conference sponsorships, and other weakly optimizable and weakly measurable customer acquisition channels.

Growth marketing also differs from brand marketing in that growth is concerned about immediately measurable and profitable outcomes; growth isn't concerned with "getting the word out" by "generating buzz" and "becoming thought leaders" through "brand voice."

Instead, growth marketing leverages the scale and immediacy of the Internet to start small and discover where customer acquisition is possible. It does this through iteratively distributing ad spend, tracking initial results, and optimizing every component of the customer lifecycle.

This holistic approach involves the marketing, engineering, and product teams:

A growth marketer at an early-stage startup must have all these skills. Every discipline is tightly coupled to the next.

At a mid-sized company, a growth marketer still requires these skills but can delegate so long as he or she has low-friction access to the heads of all these departments. 

🎯 If you're new to growth marketing, I suggest listening to my interview.

What makes a good growth marketer

To competently manage these disciplines, a growth marketer must be:

Let’s dive into that last point: resourcefulness. A growth marketer must be aggressively proactive when optimizing their marketing budgets:

The growth funnel

The growth funnel is the lifetime journey your customer experiences when interacting with your company. It's actually just a cute name for the customer acquisition pipeline:

Growth marketers know how these funnel steps interrelate:






If you don’t have processes for optimizing each of these steps, you're not fully implementing growth marketing. And you’ll especially benefit from this handbook.

Funnel prioritization

To spend your marketing budget efficiently, prioritize your optimization of the growth funnel's steps in reverse: When each step past Acquisition performs better, every dollar spent on Acquisition goes further! 

Think about it: The more new customers are likely to repeat buy and refer others, the more you can afford to spend acquiring each one of them.

When we reverse the funnel, the order of our priorities is:

  1. Referrals: I cover this on the content marketing page.
  2. Revenue: This will be written into the guide at a later date.
  3. Engagement and conversion: This is the domain of landing pages, A/B testing, and onboarding, which I fully cover in this handbook.
  4. Acquisition: This is the domain of Ads, Sales, and Content, which I also fully cover. 

Choose the next page

Every page in this handbook is dry. So read the pages that are most immediately relevant to you then bookmark this guide for when the remainder is too!
Landing Pages →
A/B Testing →
User Onboarding →
Ad Channels →
Ad Copywriting →
B2B Sales→
Content Marketing →

Or you can start by listening to my podcast interview on growth.

Not ready? Here are my best blog posts

Don't let your anger persist

Passive aggression does not promote change.

What you should do with your life

A technique for choosing big projects.

Dealing with startup competition

A framework for handling competition anxiety.

———  Contents
——  Intro
——  Prep Week
——  The Program
——  Fat Loss
——  Cheat Sheets