June 29, 2018

Reframing Growth

reframing growth charts

For the longest time, I’ve been against one of the most pervasive attitudes in the tech and business world: growth-at-all-costs. I’m still against that mentality, but my opinions have been evolving lately.

At an intellectual level, I understand that growth is what fuels businesses and the economy. Without growth, everything stagnates and eventually dies. But emotionally, it just doesn’t feel right. Pursuing growth over everything else in a business seems like a recipe for disaster. It leads to the hustle, which leads to the grind, which leads to burnout—both for individuals and businesses.

I can’t get on board with that.

I get why so many companies default to the growth-at-all-costs model, too. So many of them take outside investments that it probably feels like the only path to success for them. When you’re beholden to investors that want a lucrative exit in the next 2-4 years, massive growth is one of very few options left. And investment is so ingrained into our culture that most people default to it as the only way to build a business.

Still, I wholeheartedly think that the One True Path™️ for businesses should be the one laid out by DHH—making a dent in the universe, rather than trying to upheave anything and everything. Create a solid, sustainable business. One which cares about what the customers and employees want, not investors. One that doesn’t consume every waking hour and employee lives in the process. People should default to building a bootstrapped, balanced, longterm business.

It seems like growth is at odds with the “making a dent in the universe” model. Until recently, I definitely felt that, too.

Now, I think that growth is completely in harmony with slower, sustainable business. Growth-at-all-costs is not, but when a business grows more gradually and intentionally, it’s a great thing. That business will be more sustainable and, perhaps more importantly, will positively affect the lives of more people.

That’s the crux for me: helping more people. Until this past year or two, I’d have been against introducing sales and growth hackers and whatever the hell else you want to call it to most businesses, preferring organic, inbound customers instead. But now I think that having those people on a team is the way to go, assuming they understand the goals and values of the business. They help get products and solutions in front of more people, in theory helping those people solve problems and create better work and lives.

I think of Litmus, which only recently started building a sales team. For a long time, us tenured folks were anti-sales. But we’ve seen how effective sales and growth can be for getting our product (which we firmly believe improves the lives of email professionals) in the hands of people and companies that need it. There’s still the fear of growth adversely affecting our core company values, our culture, and our product, but by instilling those values and culture in the sales and growth teams, we can mitigate a lot of the problems that other companies run into.

The email industry is massive and only growing. But there are still so many shitty senders out there—the companies that send ill-conceived, broken, blast-y, spam-y emails on a daily basis. They need a tool like Litmus to help make email better for everyone. The only way we can help them do that is by growing and getting in front of them.

So, yeah… growth can be a good thing. It’s taken me a long time to reframe that in my own mind (and it’s still a work in progress). But I think for anyone that’s anti-growth, looking a little deeper at the benefits of growth and how we can temper the growth-at-all-costs mindset is a useful exercise.