Poul Anderson’s sentiments are especially applicable today, talking about what might be the universal, top-of-the-mind problem of entrepreneurs everywhere — growth.
SaaS Growth is hard to think about, in my opinion, because there is tension within the concept.
The tension with definitions
It’s true that growth can be defined (you’re growing if you have more renewing customers than canceling ones and you’re growing if your collective customer LTV is three times your collective CAC).
But it’s also true that these kinds of definitions leave much to be desired: they’re isolated, lagging indicators that can point towards general health but they’re far from holistic pictures of how well the strategies you’re implementing are working together, and what you ought to do to leverage them better.
The tension with properties
It’s true that growth, across the board, is associated with the same properties. Scalability, repeatability, and predictability are the forces that divide companies that crack under the pressure of scale and companies that are robust enough to push through the growing pains, into sustainability.
But it’s also true that the properties do not indicate what’s causing them to work and how. Scalability might be driving growth but what’s going right enough to cause it? Where? Sometimes it’s even hard for founders to pinpoint why a product is blowing up.
The tension with blueprints
It’s true that when a company is growing, you can tell. When Shopify jumps from making 205 million to 389 million in 365 days, you can tell they’re driving growth and break down what they might have done differently over the last year. When Slack’s trial to paid conversion rate hits 30%, you can tell they’re doing the same, and break their strategies down for implementable nuggets of gold.
But growth hacks and growth strategies are embedded in context as well. You can look at a company like Shopify or Slack, tell that they’re growing, figure out the blueprint they used to do it, and still be in square one because your context is different and you have to figure growth out for yourself.
Context seems to be the recurring cause of tension in the concept of growth, and rightly so. Companies have different goals and different amounts of resources (time, people, and money) to meet them.
Growth advice that doesn’t account for this kind of context might be good enough for a win here and there but not much more.