20Growth Three Growth Lessons Scaling Whatsapp from 0100M, Why You Should Hire a Head of Growth Sooner Than You Think & The Biggest Mistakes Founders Make When Hiring for Growth with Ryan Wiggins, Head of Growth @ Mercury

Summary Notes


In this episode of "20 Growth" with host Harry Stebbings, Ryan Wiggins, VP of Growth and Analytics at Mercury, shares his journey from customer support at Facebook to pioneering growth strategies at WhatsApp and building analytics functions. Wiggins discusses the importance of product-market fit, the right product for the right audience, and the relentless focus on core functionalities to drive growth. He emphasizes the need for a great product, deep customer understanding, and a robust growth execution loop. Wiggins also advises against relying solely on data-driven decisions, advocating for customer empathy and understanding the full customer journey. He highlights the significance of quick, impactful results and the ability to iterate rapidly through a lean team structure. Additionally, Wiggins touches on the common pitfalls in hiring growth teams, the evolution of growth functions, and the impressive growth strategy of Substack. Throughout the conversation, Stebbings also promotes sponsors Funnel and Jasper, tools for marketing data analysis and AI-driven content creation, respectively.

Summary Notes

Introduction to 20 Growth with Harry Stebbings

  • Harry Stebbings hosts the monthly show "20 Growth" focusing on scaling growth teams.
  • The show features interviews with growth leaders to share their insights on strategies and tactics.
  • Ryan Wiggins, the VP of growth and analytics at Mercury, is the guest for the episode.

This is 20 growth with me, Harry Stebbings. This is the monthly show where we sit down with the best growth leaders to unpack their tips, tactics and strategies to scaling growth teams.

The quote introduces the podcast and its focus on growth strategies within organizations. Harry Stebbings is the host, and the show aims to provide valuable insights from experienced growth leaders.

Ryan Wiggins' Professional Background

  • Ryan Wiggins oversees the growth team and founded the analytics function at Mercury.
  • He has experience building growth teams at WhatsApp, Workplace, and Facebook Ads.
  • Ryan Wiggins is also an active angel investor.

And today we're joined by Ryan Wiggins, VP of growth and analytics at Mercury, where he oversees a growth team and founded the analytics function.

This quote highlights Ryan Wiggins' current role and his significant contributions to Mercury, establishing his expertise in growth and analytics.

The Role of Data in Marketing

  • Marketing efforts are increasingly data-driven.
  • Companies often rely on manual spreadsheets, which are insufficient for scaling growth.
  • Funnel is a marketing data hub that automates data collection and analysis without coding.

So do you know the impact of your marketing efforts? It's more important this year than ever to know the impact or how much you've spent so far this month and what you got as a result.

The quote emphasizes the importance of understanding the impact of marketing efforts through data analysis, suggesting that manual methods are outdated for modern marketing needs.

Introduction of Jasper AI

  • Jasper AI is an assistant for business that accelerates the writing process.
  • It is designed specifically for business use and includes SEO, plagiarism checking, and a browser extension.

Jasper is an AI assistant for business that helps marketers, sales reps and other creators accelerate their writing process and repackage content into different formats, languages and tones.

The quote introduces Jasper AI as a tool to assist business professionals with content creation, highlighting its business-specific features.

Ryan Wiggins' Entry into Startups

  • Ryan Wiggins began his career in customer support at Facebook.
  • A SQL class he took was transformative, leading him to use data to improve customer support.
  • He realized his work aligned with growth, leading him to join Facebook's growth marketing team.

I started my career in a customer support role at Facebook. Right out of college, I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but one day someone offered a SQL class and I took that class and it basically changed my life.

This quote describes the pivotal moment in Ryan Wiggins' career when he discovered the value of data analysis and its application in improving customer support.

Career Advice from Ryan Wiggins

  • Pursue areas of curiosity and add value to your team.
  • Identify skill gaps for desired roles and work to close them.
  • These principles have guided Wiggins' career and created unexpected opportunities.

But there have been two guiding principles that have guided a lot of my career that have come in the form of advice. And the two kind of things that come up is that, first, at the end of the day, you have to pursue things that you're really curious about, and you have to use those curiosities as a way to add value to the team you're on.

The quote captures Ryan Wiggins' career philosophy: follow your curiosity and contribute to your team, which can lead to growth and new opportunities.

Insights from Growth at Facebook and WhatsApp

  • WhatsApp's growth was driven by the right product-market fit, simplicity, reliability, and strategic partnerships.
  • Data-driven approaches are valuable, but customer empathy and a great product are essential.
  • Growth execution loops are crucial, involving product, marketing, and partnerships.

So what I learned about WhatsApp and how WhatsApp grew was really kind of three things. First, it was the right product for the right market.

This quote summarizes the key factors behind WhatsApp's growth, emphasizing the importance of product-market fit in the company's success.

Understanding Growth Execution Loops

  • Growth execution loops are about understanding product dynamics and what enhances growth.
  • Growth is not just acquisition but also involves conversion, activation, and retention.
  • Sequencing in addressing growth issues is critical for impact at scale.

It comes to understanding the dynamics behind a product and what will help pour fuel on the fire.

The quote defines growth execution loops as the process of identifying and leveraging the product dynamics that can amplify growth.

Misconceptions About Growth

  • Leaders often misunderstand growth, focusing too much on acquisition rather than the full customer journey.
  • Growth professionals may overlook the significance of the product experience.
  • Finding the right growth lever is more effective than numerous growth hacks.

I think ultimately, is that the product experience matters. I've seen far too many growth leaders jump to notifications, upsells, or things like that. But in my experience, there's usually one thing that drives most the results.

This quote explains a common misconception among growth professionals, highlighting the importance of focusing on the product experience and key growth levers.

Importance of Timing in Growth

  • Timing is crucial for growth, focusing on when to engage users rather than just increasing notifications or upsells.
  • Understanding the core product experience and user problems is essential for growth.
  • Growth should stem from solving user problems with a product experience.

"The right time for someone. That kind of is the most important thing about growth."

This quote emphasizes the significance of timing in engaging users and aligning growth efforts with solving user problems through the product experience.

Defining Successful Users

  • Determining what constitutes a successful user is challenging yet crucial for businesses.
  • Success metrics can vary, such as message frequency, app returns, or contact numbers.
  • Advising founders on selecting the right metric for user success is a key aspect of growth strategy.

"How do you define what is a successful user?"

This quote highlights the complexity of identifying the criteria that determine a user's success within a product or service.

Retention and User Actions

  • Analyzing retention curves and correlating them with user actions is a common approach in growth strategy.
  • For WhatsApp, having people to talk to increases retention, but the critical factor is having the "one person" you want to talk to.
  • Identifying core app dynamics and user value is essential for driving growth.

"What is the retention curve. So up the percent of people that start, what percent of people stick around, and basically try to correlate that with actions people take early on."

The quote underscores the importance of understanding user retention and the early actions that correlate with long-term engagement.

Speed of Growth Teams

  • Speed differentiates growth teams from core product teams.
  • Growth teams should have tightly scoped projects, validate hypotheses quickly, and aim for impactful results.
  • Growth efforts should focus on significant wins rather than small improvements.

"I think speed is one of actually the most important parts of a growth team."

This quote conveys the value of quick execution and responsiveness as distinguishing characteristics of successful growth teams.

Experimentation and Sample Size

  • There is a science to determining when to continue or cut an experiment based on measurable impact and sample size.
  • Online calculators can help determine the necessary sample size for an experiment's impact level.
  • Considering input metrics versus output metrics is important for assessing early positive actions.

"When you run an experiment, you can measure the measurable impact of an experiment and the sample size you need to be able to affect that experiment."

The quote explains the methodical approach to conducting growth experiments, emphasizing the need for appropriate sample sizes to measure impacts accurately.

Timing for Hiring a Growth Team

  • Hiring a growth team is appropriate when the product has market fit and at least one user acquisition channel is working.
  • The CEO acts as the growth PM until a stable user acquisition channel is established.
  • A growth team should scale existing success rather than create growth from nothing.

"The thing that I think is the moment that you're looking for is that the product has a core product market fit and at least one channel is working for bringing in some new users."

The quote identifies the optimal timing for bringing on a dedicated growth team, which is after achieving product-market fit and having a reliable user acquisition channel.

Profile for First Growth Hire

  • Early hires may focus on infrastructure, such as product measurement or conversion tracking.
  • A growth leader should be brought in early to architect the growth system.
  • The growth leader should be a generalist capable of maximizing existing assets and planning future growth.

"But I think you should bring in a growth leader pretty early once understand that it's time to grow."

This quote suggests that a growth leader with a strategic vision is crucial for early-stage companies ready to focus on growth.

Role of the First Growth Leader

  • The first growth leader should thoroughly understand the customer journey.
  • Running critical analyses on user origins, funnel dynamics, and key actions leading to high activity is vital.
  • The growth leader should start with curiosity and quickly move to implementing and shipping projects.

"I think that growth leader should go through the customer journey from discovering the product and becoming an active customer."

The quote emphasizes the importance of the growth leader experiencing and understanding the customer journey firsthand to identify improvement areas.

Advantages of a Lean Growth Team

  • Following Metcalfe's law, smaller teams can reduce complexity and increase efficiency.
  • Keeping the team small allows for faster iteration and better prioritization.
  • A lean team is preferred until proven growth strategies require scaling.

"Is there one to four people that can get something done and trying to keep things as small as possible to iterate as quick as possible."

This quote advocates for starting with a minimal team to maintain agility and focus in growth efforts.

Founder's Perspective on Growth

  • Founders must determine if growth is repeatable without their direct involvement.
  • Assessing whether growth persists when reducing effort can indicate organic adoption.
  • Founders may need to evaluate the sustainability of their growth strategies.

"The thing that is important is, is it repeatable?"

This quote challenges founders to consider the repeatability and sustainability of their growth strategies for long-term success.

Prioritizing Growth Channels

  • Prioritize improving channels that are already working before trying to fix non-performing ones.
  • Evaluate diminishing returns and opportunity costs to decide when to shift focus.
  • Continuous assessment of potential gains is necessary for growth strategy.

"I always start with how can you maximize what is working and accelerate it?"

The quote suggests focusing on optimizing successful channels as a primary growth strategy before exploring new ones.

Identifying Untapped Talent

  • Ryan Wiggins emphasizes the value of identifying change agents, especially in operational roles.
  • He highlights the importance of individuals who can impact products and operations from unconventional positions.
  • Skills such as scrappiness, customer empathy, and humility are crucial for success beyond traditional pathways.
  • Wiggins values candidates who have demonstrated the ability to make changes and affect outcomes, citing an example of a PM who transitioned from customer support.

"And so I look for someone that has been making some changes and been able to affect that change."

The quote underlines the importance of finding individuals who not only initiate change but also have a tangible impact on their environment, which is indicative of untapped talent.

Hiring for Growth

  • Ryan Wiggins defines growth as a system of optimization involving understanding and positively altering systems.
  • He doesn't require previous growth experience but looks for the demonstrated ability to understand and influence systems effectively.

"But I do need to see that kind of ability to understand the system, make changes, and then that change have, like, an impact."

This quote emphasizes the core competency Wiggins seeks in a growth hire: the capacity to comprehend systems and drive impactful changes.

Structuring the Hiring Process for Growth

  • The hiring process for growth roles should assess the candidate's ability to ship impact, analyze customer behavior, and possess product sense.
  • Wiggins outlines three critical attributes: a track record of getting things done, analytical skills to derive actionable insights, and decision-making aligned with company goals.

"So those are kind of the three dimensions that I look for. And I think there are many configurations of what you can actually screen for and how you can set up the interview process."

This quote summarizes the essential qualities Ryan looks for in a growth hire, which should be evaluated during the hiring process.

Evaluating Candidate Backgrounds

  • During the initial interview, Wiggins focuses on the candidate's career journey, project involvement, and their impact.
  • He looks for candidates who demonstrate a deep understanding of systems and the ability to deconstruct problems into actionable components.

"Great people, I find, are people that are able to a problem which is like how do we get more people to sign up, break it down into composable pieces, and then figure out the seven things that you should try and then this one works."

The quote illustrates the ideal approach Wiggins seeks in a candidate: breaking down complex problems into smaller, manageable parts and identifying effective solutions.

Case Studies in Interviews

  • Wiggins advises against using case studies that might introduce bias or make candidates feel they are providing free work.
  • He suggests using generic problems for case studies to evaluate candidates' thought processes without the influence of specific company issues.

"And so case studies are critical, but I try to think about, can it be about the more general problem of what the case study gets at versus something that would be influenced by my thinking of the day?"

This quote reflects Wiggins's methodology for utilizing case studies in interviews to assess candidates' problem-solving skills in a fair and unbiased manner.

Involvement in the Hiring Decision

  • The hiring decision for a growth role should involve the leadership team, cross-functional partners, and potential direct reports.
  • Wiggins stresses the importance of a 360-degree evaluation to assess how the candidate interacts with various team members and their analytical capabilities.

"I think that it should be the leadership team should be core to it."

This quote underscores the collective responsibility of the leadership team in making a hiring decision for a growth role.

Compensation for Growth Roles

  • Compensation should balance salary with equity to incentivize performance and ensure the growth hire has a stake in the company's success.
  • Wiggins emphasizes the need to be critical of performance and not allow complacency with equity packages.

"But one dimension that I think is really important for a growth role that is slightly different than maybe some other roles is that you really want skin in the game so that the growth person has equity upside in the problem."

The quote highlights the importance of aligning the growth hire's incentives with the company's success through equity compensation.

Onboarding Growth Talent

  • The onboarding process should focus on familiarizing the new hire with the people, product, and processes.
  • Wiggins expects new hires to gain context, form opinions, and start making impactful changes within the first three months.

"And so in that first month, the thing that I'm really trying to get them in is all the context that we can possibly have."

This quote details Wiggins's approach to onboarding, emphasizing the importance of providing comprehensive context to enable the new hire to contribute effectively.

Red Flags in New Hires

  • Red flags include a lack of team orientation, seeking quick wins without sustainability, and ignoring feedback.
  • Wiggins advocates for addressing concerns quickly if a new hire displays these red flags.

"And if someone is not taking feedback about, hey, you might want to focus on this rather than this, that's a huge red flag to me."

The quote identifies the critical nature of feedback receptiveness in new hires and the need to act swiftly if this is lacking.

Assessing Growth Hire Performance

  • A growth hire should demonstrate quality work and smart decision-making within three to six months.
  • Wiggins suggests evaluating the inputs and early work of the hire rather than immediate outcomes.

"But the question is, are they leading to a quality of work? That is the kind of understanding, choosing of smart bets and showing that they can execute on problems that is leading to any success."

This quote conveys the importance of assessing the foundational work and decision-making processes of growth hires to predict long-term success.

Hiring Mistakes

  • Harry Stebbings and Ryan Wiggins discuss common hiring mistakes.
  • Harry admits to hiring based on impressive company logos rather than individual merit.
  • Ryan recalls hiring someone who seemed like an expert in the interview but red flags were ignored.
  • Red flags in interviews often indicate problems that will grow over time.
  • Hiring should consider whether success was due to the individual or the system they were in.
  • It's important to look for candidates who can make an incremental difference in a new scenario.

"Mine's like, I've hired logos that give me confidence. And then actually they weren't very good and they didn't play the role I thought they did, and it was, ah, what do you think yours are?"

This quote exemplifies the mistake of hiring based on the prestige of a candidate's previous affiliations rather than their actual fit for the role.

"The thing is that people show you who they are in the interviews, and the things that you see that are red flags early on tend to be problems that kind of grow over time and people don't kind of change their core behavior."

Ryan emphasizes the importance of paying attention to red flags during interviews as they are often indicators of future issues.

Post Mortems in Growth Teams

  • Ryan Wiggins shares his perspective on post mortems within growth teams.
  • He believes in a regular process of evaluation rather than isolated post mortem sessions.
  • Post mortems can lead to toxic navel-gazing and micromanagement.
  • Growth teams should focus on learning themes from ongoing changes and decisions.
  • The process should be continuous and integrated into regular team operations.

"Maybe a controversial take, but I don't really believe much in doing post mortems for growth changes."

Ryan challenges the conventional wisdom of conducting post mortems, suggesting that they may not be as beneficial as continuous evaluation.

Growth Decisions Without Data

  • Ryan discusses making growth decisions without data at Mercury.
  • Mercury experimented with a product demo to showcase their platform.
  • The demo removed friction, allowing users to explore the product freely.
  • The experiment led to significant user sign-ups and deposits, becoming a growth lever.
  • This approach exemplifies product-led growth and the importance of hypothesis-driven experimentation.

"But one example of this is the experience that I had when I joined Mercury was product is the differentiated experience."

Ryan highlights the importance of the product experience as a key differentiator and driver of growth.

A/B Testing at WhatsApp

  • Ryan recounts introducing A/B testing at WhatsApp.
  • WhatsApp reached a massive user base without A/B testing frameworks.
  • A/B testing was implemented to assess potential negative impacts of new business features.
  • The framework allowed for safe, privacy-conscious experimentation.
  • The lack of negative impacts from the tests enabled confident product launches.

"So one of the craziest fun facts about WhatsApp is that WhatsApp got to a billion and a half users without running any A B test."

This quote reveals the surprising fact that WhatsApp achieved massive growth without traditional A/B testing methods.

WhatsApp's Growth in France

  • Ryan explains strategies for growing WhatsApp in less dominant markets like France.
  • The growth team executed a playbook of product marketing and partnerships.
  • Tactics included product invites, marketing campaigns, and novel partnerships.
  • These strategies accelerated WhatsApp's growth and market share in France.
  • The approach focused on leveraging network effects in strategic markets.

"And so in France, what we did was we basically took that playbook of finding the product marketing and partnerships that we could build to go accelerate our growth."

Ryan describes the targeted approach taken to grow WhatsApp's presence in the French market.

Tactics in Growth

  • Ryan and Harry discuss the evolution and consistency of growth tactics.
  • Core growth tactics, such as connecting users with key actions, remain unchanged.
  • Tactics like email and push notifications have become less effective due to overuse.
  • Growth teams need to be systems with sustained investment for long-term success.
  • Ryan advocates for more customer interaction in growth practices.
  • He predicts a continued focus on product experience and rising ad costs in the future.

"Building an experience that connects users with key actions that are going to make it so they stick around in your product is something that hasn't changed and is never going to change."

Ryan emphasizes that creating engaging product experiences is a timeless growth strategy.

"Email and push notifications are something that has been so overused that it actually has led to channel blindness."

This quote highlights the diminishing returns of certain overused growth tactics like email and push notifications.

Great Product Experiences and Growth Strategies

  • Ryan shares his admiration for Substack's growth strategy.
  • Substack provides a targeted platform with value for writers.
  • They've introduced features to leverage network effects, like newsletter recommendations.
  • Substack aligns incentives with their core customers, driving their success.

"One that I really love is Substack. Substack is a product that has built an incredible platform for a very targeted customer subset and provided a ton of value with them."

Ryan praises Substack for its focused and effective growth strategy centered around its core user base.

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