How to build a growth mindset — from Day 1

Welcome to part 1 of our series on how to build the foundational pillars for growth in your startup. Let's get into it...

Alex Turnbull

There’s a myth in the startup community that you should only start working on growth once you’re sure you’ve achieved product-market fit (PMF).

Today I’m calling bullshit on that myth. You can (and absolutely should) start working on growth from Day 1 of your startup. I’m not talking about things like building a sales team or setting up complicated marketing funnels (not yet anyway).

I’m talking about you — the founder — truly taking on a growth mindset.

This is something I have not done for most of my 10+ years as a founder, and it’s one of my biggest regrets.

For years, I believed that Groove was “not ready for growth” because we hadn’t completely nailed our PMF. We were growing organically through word of mouth and content marketing, so I didn’t see any point in getting systematic about growth. Then our exponential growth stopped and I was at a loss about what to do about it.

If I could go back in time and change one thing, it would be my mindset — and these are the shifts I would challenge myself to make.

Mindset Shift 1: Make growth your top priority

Now that I’ve taken on a growth mindset, it feels like I’m thinking about growing Groove, 24-7.

Sometimes I think it’s an obsession. But it’s a helpful obsession because every decision I make for Groove — from hiring to marketing to product development — is viewed through the lens of growth. This keeps me hyper-focused and less likely to fall into shiny object traps.

Mindset Shift 2: Understand that product-market fit is ever-evolving

I used to think that we were not ready for growth because we had not achieved product-market fit (PMF).

In Groove’s case, the PMF argument was just an excuse. It wasn’t like we were struggling to get our first 100 customers — in April 2016 we had 2,000 customers and by April of 2017, we’d hit the 3,000-customer mark!

We also surveyed our customers using Sean Ellis’s framework and the data suggested that we had a pretty solid PMF. But I wasn’t satisfied with a “pretty solid” PMF — I wanted a “perfect” PMF.

The truth is that I was afraid of going after growth.


Now I know that product-market fit is ever-evolving and that while a certain level of PMF is required before a startup can start getting serious about growth, that level is probably a lot less than you think.

Then, once you’ve achieved a measure of PMF, it’s not as if you can sit back and forget about product development. Achieving PMF is a never-ending pursuit and it takes consistent communication with your customers and a whole lot of data mining to make sure your customers enjoy using your product.

Mindset Shift 3: Always be learning

I used to think that all we needed to grow Groove was one magical growth tactic, one silver bullet, one big break.

This was a sure sign of my lack of growth mindset and it cost us big time in time, money, and effort. We were just trying tactics without any understanding of how those tactics would impact the business. Nothing worked and it sucked.

Now I know that having a growth mindset means a constant journey of learning, improving, iterating, and then repeating the process continuously.

Kobe Bryant put it this way,

“Doubt is such a strange thing. There’ll be times that you succeed and there’ll be times that you fail. Wasting your time doubting whether you’re going to be successful or not is pointless. It is… you just put one foot in front of the other; you control what you can control; and then you see what the outcome is. If you win, great. You’re gonna have to wake up the next day and do the journey over again. If you lose, it sucks. But you’re gonna have to wake up and do the journey over again anyway.”

In a startup, the journey starts with being relentlessly metrics-driven. You’ve got to look at your metrics with a regular cadence. But it doesn’t stop there. When you look at your metrics, you’re not just passively observing what’s already happened. You’re looking for OPPORTUNITIES that you can leverage to grow.

I’ve got a separate post lined up on exactly how we track and analyze our metrics to uncover our growth opportunities. But the essential first step is to operate from a growth mindset, otherwise those opportunities will be difficult to see.

Once you’ve uncovered the opportunities in your metrics, you’ll be in a position to leverage them through growth experiments.

This is far from the “throwing spaghetti at the wall” approach to growth that I used to take when I wasn’t operating from a growth mindset.

Now, our growth experiments are always tied to a metric we’re trying to improve. In our growth experiment framework, we have a mix of simple 101 B2B SaaS experiments and a few long-game experiments like The Imperfect Startup. All these experiments have gone through a prioritization process to ensure that we’re only working on the shit that matters.

If you want to learn more about our growth experiment framework, I’ll be diving into it in a future post. But ultimately, it’s simple…

We run the experiments. We track the metrics. And whether we win or fail, we learn and we improve.

That's the growth mindset.

Mindset Shift 4: Be ludicrously bold

Set yourself a bold growth goal. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious.

In 2013, we set ourselves the bold goal of reaching $100K in MRR — and blogged about the journey. At the time we’d barely cracked $10K in MRR, so this goal felt like a major stretch for me (especially because we were sharing our revenue with the public).

But by the end of 2016, we’d hit our $100K quite comfortably and I wondered if we should’ve aimed higher.

mrr growth

Now with a growth mindset driving me, I’m ready to be bold again — more ambitious than I’ve ever been before.

Our goal is to double Groove’s ARR from $4 million to $8 million in the next two years.

Sometimes when I think of that growth goal, I feel overwhelmed. I also feel intimidated when I look at some of Groove’s competitors and the task of growth starts to feel impossible.

But then I come back to the growth mindset that I’ve cultivated and the growth framework that we’ve put in place. And I just know: we can fucking do this.

Mindset Shift 5: Buckle up for the long play

Once you commit to a growth mindset, you will have to put some foundational elements into place. I’m talking about growth goals, metrics tracking, growth experiments, and eventually a team of people to support your growth goals.

All of this will take time before you start seeing results.

So buckle up. It's not going to be like, “Hey, I'm going to take on a growth mindset, I'm going to put my growth pillars in place, and tomorrow I'm going to start to grow.”

Unfortunately, that’s not how it goes down.

Be prepared to wake up every single day, get better, learn, iterate, learn, iterate, get better. That's the only way you're going to grow.

I can’t give you an exact timeline — your mileage may vary — but we’re talking a journey of years, not months here.

Buckle up for the long play and you’ll reap the rewards.

Mindset Shift 6: Assemble a growth team

In the early stages of Groove, I took on all the responsibility for growth. That’s pretty standard for an early-stage startup founder, but it can only get you so far. Eventually, you’ll need some input and support from a growth specialist.

I believed that as the founder and CEO, I should just know how to grow my company. When it wasn’t growing, I felt like a failure and started spiraling.

When I stopped the spiraling and embraced the idea of a growth mindset, I realized that I needed some specialist growth expertise. This is really no different from needing engineering or marketing or project management expertise.

giphy gif

As I’ve taken on more of a growth mindset, I’ve both developed my own expertise around growth and I’ve consulted with several growth specialists. The more I learn about growth, the less I feel like I know! ;)

My medium-term goal is to hire a growth team, whose primary function will be to grow Groove at specific levels of the funnel.

Revenue growth starts with a growth mindset

These are the six mindset shifts that I’ve made, after more than ten years as a startup founder. I know that if I’d made them earlier, I would have been less stressed, operated more efficiently, and I’ll be totally honest — we would have made a lot more money.

So if you truly want to grow your startup, check your mindset first. That’s the foundation on which all our growth pillars are built. No growth tactic or smart strategy or bright idea will work in isolation. You’ve got to be operating from a growth mindset.

In our upcoming series, we’re going to be diving deeper into each of those growth pillars:

  • The whole company now has a growth mindset. We’re constantly learning, iterating and improving. Making smart rational decisions.
  • Those smart rational decisions that we’re making now come from being 100% metrics-driven — gone are the days of coming up with an idea off the cuff. Everything has to be tied back to our goals and metrics.
  • We’ve created a growth experiment framework and we’re executing on 101 B2B SaaS growth experiments that are tied to key growth metrics.
  • We’re committing to product-led growth.
  • We’re going to build out a growth team to help us crush our growth goals and experiments.
  • And to keep us honest, we’re sharing the ups and downs of our growth journey with radical transparency right here on The Imperfect Startup.
Alex Turnbull
Founder & CEO, Groove
Alex Turnbull
Founder & CEO, Groove

Alex is the CEO & Founder of Groove. He loves to help other entrepreneurs build startups by sharing his own experiences from the trenches.