20Growth Biggest Growth Lessons from Reddit and Zynga on Scaling to Millions of Users Why, When and How To Hire Your First Growth Hires The Biggest Mistakes Founders Make In Hiring, Onboarding and Integration for Growth Teams with Vaibhav Sahgal, VP

Summary Notes


In a revealing conversation on "20 Growth," host Harry Stebbings discusses the intricacies of growth strategy with V Sagal, VP of Consumer Product at Reddit. Sagal, with a background as Head of Growth at Reddit and an eight-year tenure at Zynga, shares his journey into the growth space, which began serendipitously as a software engineer. He emphasizes the importance of deeply understanding user motivations, citing an eye-opening experience at Zynga that taught him the value of user-centric product management. Sagal also reflects on the mistakes made while building growth teams, such as not hiring or firing quickly enough and failing to integrate with existing company culture. He advocates for hiring experienced growth leaders post-product-market fit and underscores the necessity of equipping them with the tools to analyze, strategize, and execute effectively. Sagal's insights extend to angel investing, where he underscores the importance of investing in talent over product, and praises the bottoms-up SaaS model, exemplified by companies like Slack, for its impressive growth strategy.

Summary Notes

Introduction to "20 Growth" with Harry Stebings

  • "20 Growth" is a monthly show hosted by Harry Stebings.
  • The show features discussions with leading growth experts about starting and scaling growth teams.
  • V Sagal, VP of Consumer Product at Reddit, joins the show.
  • V Sagal has a background in growth and product management, with experience at Reddit and Zynga.

Welcome back. This is 20 growth with me, Harry Stebings.

The quote is the opening line of the show, setting the stage for the discussion on growth strategies with industry leaders.

V Sagal's Background and Experience

  • V Sagal has been with Reddit for nearly five years.
  • Prior roles include Head of Growth at Reddit and various positions at Zynga.
  • At Zynga, V Sagal worked on products like "Words with Friends" as Director of Product and GM.

Now in this monthly show, we sit down with the world's best growth leaders to discuss why, when and how you may need to start and scale your growth team, taking lessons from their immense experiences scaling some of the best.

The quote highlights the purpose of the show, which is to learn from the experiences of top growth leaders like V Sagal.

Acknowledgment of Contributors

  • Casey Winters is thanked for his role in making the show happen.
  • Casey Winters is recognized as an influential leader in the growth industry.

I also want to say huge thank you. This show would not have happened without Casey Winters, an incredible leader in the growth world and so appreciate all you did to make this one happen, my friend.

Harry Stebings expresses gratitude to Casey Winters for his contribution to the show, emphasizing his significance in the growth sector.

TripActions and Flatfile Advertisements

  • TripActions simplifies corporate travel booking and expense management.
  • Flatfile is a data onboarding platform designed for importing customer data.
  • Both services aim to streamline processes for businesses and integrate technology for better user experiences.

Trip Actions was born out of the realization that business travel should be easy.

The quote is part of an advertisement for TripActions, highlighting the service's goal to simplify business travel.

Discussion of Hybrid Workplaces

  • The show mentions the move to hybrid work environments.
  • 68% of workers prefer a hybrid workplace.
  • Robin is a platform that facilitates flexible workspaces for companies.

Did you know that 68% of workers say a hybrid workplace is their preference?

This quote introduces the topic of hybrid workplaces and the preference of workers for this model, setting the stage for the discussion of tools like Robin.

V Sagal's Accidental Entry into Growth

  • V Sagal's career in growth started by chance.
  • His initial role was as a software engineer at a social network called High5.
  • An A/B test he conducted led to a 20% increase in click-through rate, sparking his interest in growth.

Yeah, I mean, mostly by accident, to be honest.

V Sagal describes his unexpected entry into the field of growth, which was not a premeditated career path.

Zynga as a Learning Experience

  • Zynga was likened to a university for product management.
  • V Sagal learned the importance of understanding users and their motivations.
  • He emphasizes the need to shed biases and focus on the actual users of the product.

Zynga at that time, was basically this school for product management.

V Sagal compares his time at Zynga to an educational experience in product management, indicating the valuable lessons he learned there.

User Understanding and Channel Diversification

  • V Sagal stresses the importance of deeply understanding users.
  • He suggests creating user personas and making decisions based on their preferences.
  • Channel diversification is crucial to avoid channel burnout and to personalize user experience.

Really get to know your user in and out. Who are they? What are their motivations? Why do they use your product?

The quote emphasizes the necessity of comprehensively understanding users to create products that truly meet their needs.

Defining Growth

  • Growth is often misunderstood and overused.
  • V Sagal agrees with Casey Winters that growth should be about value connection.
  • Growth involves connecting users to the value that already exists in a product.

Growth really should be renamed to something like value connection.

V Sagal shares his perspective on growth, aligning with the idea that it is about connecting users to the value offered by a product, rather than just increasing numbers.

Value Creation vs. Value Connection

  • Growth teams focus on connecting users with existing product value rather than creating new features.
  • Tactics like push notifications and new user onboarding are examples of value connection.
  • Value connection is about organizing the product to better engage users, not about adding new features.
  • Growth is not limited to traffic growth but encompasses long-term outcomes and impact.
  • Value creation involves adding new elements to a product to attract or retain users.

"It's really about value connection, not about value creation."

This quote emphasizes the distinction between making new features (value creation) and making existing features more accessible to users (value connection).

"You didn't create anything new in the product. There's no new value being created. What you're doing is you're trying to organize your product to better connect it to the user coming in so that they retain, engage, et cetera, et cetera."

The speaker clarifies that value connection is about optimizing the user's experience with what already exists in the product, not introducing new features.

Hiring for Growth Post-Product Market Fit

  • Initial focus should be on creating value within the product rather than connecting.
  • Intentionality and deliberation in growth strategy are crucial from the start.
  • Hiring for growth should ideally happen after achieving product-market fit.
  • The role of a growth leader is to connect value to users, which requires a product leader with a specific skill set.
  • Seniority and experience are important for a head of growth to handle various responsibilities effectively.

"I think ideally you want to do it post product market fit."

This quote suggests that companies should wait until they have product-market fit before making their first growth hire, as the product's value must be established first.

"Ahead of growth is really a title that has shown up in the last few years, but really all it is is a director of product or vp of product who works on value connection."

The speaker points out that a head of growth is essentially a product leader with a focus on value connection, indicating the type of professional experience to look for in a candidate.

Building and Managing a Growth Team

  • Hiring speed and spending adequate time on the hiring process are critical.
  • It's important to let go of underperforming team members quickly.
  • Harmonizing with the existing company culture and building relationships across the company are essential.
  • A growth leader should be able to execute, attract talent, and have a low ego.
  • The growth team should fit within the company's culture and uphold high integrity.

"Probably 30% to 40% of my time in those early years should have just been hiring."

The speaker reflects on the importance of dedicating a significant portion of time to hiring to avoid overloading oneself and hindering scalability.

"You need to find the diamonds in the rough, but you do need someone, I think, who is senior enough and who has some experience wearing all those different hats because it is pretty challenging."

This quote suggests that while finding hidden talent is valuable, experience and the ability to manage diverse responsibilities are crucial for a growth leader.

Interview Process for Growth Hires

  • Utilizing one's network and back channels can be effective for early hiring.
  • The ability to execute and make an impact is difficult to assess in interviews but crucial for a growth hire.
  • A clear and comprehensive interview process is necessary to evaluate a candidate's understanding of growth strategies.
  • Candidates should be assessed on their ability to attract talent and fit within the company culture.

"How would you think about driving growth for Reddit? That literally was the interview."

This quote describes a focused interview question aimed at understanding a candidate's process and strategic thinking around growth.

"You want someone who can actually walk you through that end to end process with a lot of clarity."

The speaker highlights the importance of a candidate's ability to articulate a clear process for driving growth, rather than just presenting ideas.

Assessing Creativity and Imagination in Hiring

  • Evaluating a candidate's creativity and imagination involves understanding their ability to judge such qualities.
  • Back channeling is used to assess a candidate by speaking to people who have worked with them, not just their previous managers.
  • Inquiries are made to team members and peers about their willingness to follow or work with the candidate again.

"I would do a lot of back channeling there. So I've done this for people where a lot of times when you're back channeling, you only talk to folks who were their previous managers. But I think it's actually equally important to talk to people who are on their team."

This quote explains the importance of back channeling in the hiring process, emphasizing the need to consult with a candidate's former teammates, not just managers, to get a comprehensive view of their capabilities.

Use of Case Studies in Interviews

  • Case studies are used to evaluate a candidate's problem-solving skills and their approach to ambiguous problems.
  • Candidates are expected to articulate their process in solving a case study and demonstrate understanding of the problem.
  • The ability to prioritize and set goals for key metrics is a critical aspect of the evaluation process.

"You want someone who can take a high level ambiguous problem and just break it down for you and be really articulate about what exactly their process is and how they're going to solve the problem."

This quote highlights the importance of a candidate's ability to deconstruct complex problems and clearly communicate their problem-solving process during an interview.

Equity Compensation for Key Hires

  • Equity compensation is crucial for important hires, as it gives them a sense of ownership and investment in the company's success.
  • The amount of equity offered should reflect the significance of the hire's role and their potential impact on the company's key metrics.
  • Equity is meant to incentivize the hire to perform well and align their financial outcomes with the company's success.

"You want them to feel like they have skin in the game. You want them to feel like this is their company, that they have ownership, and that they could have a material impact on their lives if they do a great job, but you want to pay them enough to where you are setting them up to succeed."

The quote discusses the rationale behind offering equity compensation to key hires, emphasizing the need for them to feel invested in the company and motivated to contribute to its success.

North Star Metric and Leading Indicators

  • The North Star metric is a critical measure of success for a company, such as daily active users.
  • Although the North Star metric rarely changes, the leading indicators that influence it may vary based on new tests and learnings.
  • Focusing on upstream metrics like retention is more beneficial than solely concentrating on downstream metrics.

"So in some ways, yeah, your North Star metric doesn't really change, but your leading indicators, they probably change a lot depending upon what you've tested, what you've learned."

This quote clarifies that while the North Star metric remains constant, the indicators that lead to it are dynamic and can change as the company evolves and gains new insights.

Onboarding Process for Growth Hire Heads

  • The onboarding process should be minimal for the right candidate, as they are expected to be self-sufficient and proactive.
  • Access to data, a laptop, and a collaborative team of engineers are essential resources for a new growth hire to start effectively.
  • Clean and structured data is important to enable the new hire to analyze and strategize quickly without being burdened with data management tasks.

"Give them access to data, give them a laptop. Hopefully they have a team that they can work with. And the beginning, all you need is a few engineers."

This quote suggests that a minimal and efficient onboarding process with the necessary resources is sufficient for a competent growth hire to begin their role effectively.

Red Flags and Green Lights in the First Month of a New Hire

  • Red flags include excessive talking and listening without action, while green lights involve eagerness to execute and launch initiatives.
  • A senior hire should be able to analyze data, develop a strategy, and start collaborating with engineers to execute plans within the first month.
  • The ability to quickly move from planning to action is a key indicator of a successful candidate.

"The right candidate just wants to get going. They want to launch something their second week there. They should just be itching to execute and launching things that is the right candidate."

The quote emphasizes the importance of a proactive approach in a new hire, indicating that a strong candidate should be action-oriented and ready to implement ideas early on.

Resourcing the New Head of Growth

  • Providing a few full-time, collaborative engineers to work with the head of growth is more effective than using contractors or part-time help.
  • Ensuring that the growth team has skin in the game and is fully invested in the company's success is crucial.

"As I mentioned in the beginning, you just need a few engineers who can collaborate, who can work with this person full time, much better than contractors or part time again, you want people who have skin in the game."

This quote underscores the necessity of giving the new head of growth a dedicated team of engineers to foster a committed and effective working relationship.

Painful Experiences and Valuable Lessons

  • Painful professional experiences can offer valuable lessons, such as the importance of pre-testing ideas before investing significant resources.
  • Asking users directly whether they want a new feature can save time and effort and avoid misallocation of resources.
  • The experience of having a feature fail and receiving critical feedback can lead to improved decision-making processes in the future.

"Why did you not put up a dialogue in front of users asking them, hey, do you want a faster board to play on, yes or no? We never did that."

The quote reflects on a missed opportunity to validate a product idea with users before development, highlighting the importance of user feedback in the ideation process.

Maintaining Morale During Challenging Times

  • Building a culture of ownership and empowerment is key to maintaining morale when a team or company is struggling.
  • Allowing every team member to contribute ideas and solutions can lead to breakthroughs and improvements.
  • The best ideas can come from any level within the organization, not just from leadership positions.

"It was about building a culture where everyone felt ownership and everyone had a voice and everyone had power to be able to come up with the idea that could take us out of it."

The quote speaks to the importance of fostering a culture where all employees feel responsible for the company's success and are empowered to contribute solutions.

Idea Validation Process

  • Idea validation can be conducted through various methods such as user dialogues, push notifications, user research, or MVP testing.
  • The aim is to quickly and efficiently validate ideas before committing significant engineering time.
  • Selecting the right validation method for each idea is crucial to conserving resources and adding value for users.

"For me, it was about, we have ten different ways of validating ideas. For each idea. We chose one of those ten, and the key was that each of those would be just really fast, simple, easy, and ultimately would save us a lot of engineering time."

This quote describes the diverse methods available for idea validation and emphasizes the importance of choosing the most efficient approach to save time and resources.

Product Reviews and Accountability

  • Product reviews serve as a platform for accountability, sharing learnings, and informing future actions.
  • All discipline leads, including product, engineering, design, QA, and research, should be present for shared accountability.
  • Product reviews are a critical instrument for ensuring that all stakeholders are informed and accountable for the results.

"Every single discipline needs to have a seat at the table because they have shared accountability to the results, and this is an instrument for accountability."

The quote explains the significance of including representatives from every discipline in product reviews to maintain a collective responsibility for outcomes and learnings.

Documentation and Frequency of Product Reviews

  • Product reviews can vary in frequency depending on the industry; for example, weekly in gaming at Zynga and monthly at Reddit.
  • Documentation is important to capture data and share insights with the rest of the team.
  • The frequency and documentation of product reviews should align with the business's needs and the pace of the industry.

"So when I was at Zynga, we did them weekly. It was just a weekly product cadence... For Reddit, it's actually more like once a month."

This quote illustrates the difference in product review cadences between companies and industries, with some requiring more frequent reviews than others based on the business dynamics.

Optimal Cadence for Product Discussions

  • Finding the right cadence for product discussions varies depending on the product and company culture.
  • Zynga had an elaborate process involving slides and all-nighters, while Reddit adopted a more informal approach.
  • Reddit's informal approach includes a one-pager document listing: what was done, what was learned, surprising or counterintuitive findings, and their implications.
  • The focus is on discussion rather than extensive documentation.
  • These one-pagers are stored in a repository for reference, especially useful for new employees.

"At Zynga, we had this elaborate, you would do slides and people would spend hours and pull all nighters doing it. We got rid of all of that at Reddit, and it was very informal."

This quote highlights the contrast between Zynga's and Reddit's methods for product discussion, emphasizing Reddit's shift towards a more streamlined and discussion-focused approach.

Angel Investing and Talent Focus

  • When angel investing, the speaker prioritizes belief in the individual's talent over the product or market specifics.
  • The belief is that a talented individual will find a way to succeed, thus the investment is more in the person than the product.
  • This philosophy is mirrored in internal team building, where talent is considered paramount.

"But ultimately, talent is everything. So for me, when I do angel investing, I'm not so much interested in what exactly is the product, what exactly is the market. But if I really believe in the person and the talent, I know they'll figure it out and I'm investing more in them and less in the product."

This quote encapsulates the speaker's investment philosophy, which prioritizes the talent and potential of the individual over the specifics of the product or market.

Reflection on a Bad Investment

  • The speaker admits to a poor investment decision in a San Francisco hotel, which was influenced by the allure of being a part-owner rather than sound investment principles.
  • Acknowledges that the investment did not align with their usual criteria of focusing on the people and value of the product.
  • This experience serves as a reminder to adhere to one's investment rubric.

"I invested in a hotel in San Francisco, which is a horrible investment. [...] Ultimately, if I was going by my rubric of, like, who am I investing in? What's the value of the product, I would not have invested."

The quote reflects on a personal investment mistake, highlighting the importance of sticking to established investment criteria and not being swayed by superficial aspects.

Future of Social Networks

  • Social networks are increasingly focusing on communities and interests rather than individual friendships.
  • Reddit was ahead of its time with its community and interest-based model.
  • Broad social networks are moving towards being organized by interests, with private messaging taking over the friends aspect.
  • The speaker credits Mark Zuckerberg for recognizing this shift towards community-focused social networking.

"That broad social network is just going to be about interests, and it's going to be less about identity, more and more."

This quote predicts the future trajectory of social networks, indicating a shift away from individual identity towards community and interest-based interactions.

Potential Missteps for Reddit

  • Reddit's strength lies in the depth of content and discussion.
  • The risk for Reddit is if it tries to cover weaknesses or imitate other social networks, rather than doubling down on its unique strength.
  • The speaker emphasizes the importance of depth in content as Reddit's differentiator.

"How we fuck up is instead of doubling down where we are strong, we try to cover our weaknesses, or we look at what's happening with other social networks and we try to follow."

This quote identifies the potential pitfall for Reddit, which would be deviating from its core strength and trying to emulate other social networks.

Depth and Breadth in Social Platforms

  • Reddit is recognized for deep, thoughtful discussions, which is its unique selling point.
  • While breadth is necessary, depth remains the key differentiator for Reddit.
  • The platform supports a wide range of topics, but the depth of conversation sets it apart.

"But the difference is Reddit is the deepest, most thoughtful discussion. That's not happening anywhere else."

The quote emphasizes Reddit's competitive advantage in providing deep and thoughtful discussions, which is not replicated on other platforms.

Perception Challenges for Reddit

  • Reddit struggles with a perception problem among the average person, often associated with specific events or being a niche platform.
  • The speaker acknowledges the need to address and improve public perception of Reddit.

"No, I think we have a perception problem."

This brief quote acknowledges the challenge Reddit faces with its public image and the need to reshape perceptions to align with its community and content strengths.

Unchanged Growth Tactics

  • Delivering a great customer experience remains unchanged as a key growth tactic.
  • New user onboarding and push notifications and email are still critical components of growth strategies.

"Just serving your customer a great experience has not changed."

The quote reinforces the timeless importance of providing a great customer experience as a fundamental aspect of growth.

Obsolete Growth Tactics

  • Many SEO tactics, particularly black hat SEO, are becoming obsolete.
  • Good SEO practices such as website structure and content communication to search engines remain valuable.

"I think a lot of SEO stuff is just dying a pretty quick death."

This quote highlights the decline of certain SEO practices, suggesting a shift towards more ethical and sustainable SEO strategies.

Hiring for Growth Teams

  • Founders must hire growth team members who fit the specific needs of the company, not just based on past success or intelligence.
  • The speaker stresses the importance of matching the right person to the job considering industry, company stage, and the individual's personality and skills.

"You need to find not just smart people, but the kind of person that you need for this exact job."

This quote advises on the critical aspect of hiring for growth teams, emphasizing the need for a deliberate approach to match the job's specific requirements.

Impressive Company Growth Strategies

  • The speaker admires the bottoms-up SaaS model, citing Slack as an example of successful implementation.
  • Slack's pivot from a gaming startup to a B2B software and the organic growth through user adoption is highlighted.
  • The model demonstrates a blend of consumer social dynamics and B2B strategies.

"I mean, I'm a huge fan of the bottoms up SaaS model."

This quote expresses admiration for the bottoms-up approach to SaaS growth, exemplified by Slack's strategy.

First Mile Experience

  • TikTok's onboarding experience is praised for its immediate value delivery and personalization.
  • The platform's ability to quickly adapt to user preferences is highlighted as a significant achievement.

"The first time I used TikTok, they drop you straight onto a video. No sign up, nothing."

The quote describes the speaker's impressive first-hand experience with TikTok's user onboarding process, emphasizing its effectiveness in engaging new users immediately.

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