Book review: Startup Growth Engines

Part of the rhythm of my reading list is to mix-in a business book between fun science fiction reads. ¬†Given I’m working on growing my business, I like to read and learn¬†about the tactics and methods that other startups and tech companies have used or are using to market their wares. This desire led me to reading Startup Growth Engines: Case Studies of How Today’s Most Successful Startups Unlock Extraordinary Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown. Both Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown are well-respected in the technology startup community, particularly for working in and helping businesses rapidly grow their user bases. Bottom line, the book was a good fit according to the criteria I’ve established for my reading list.

Out of the blocks, I’ll admit I’d had high expectations for the book. I went into it expecting to mark lots of notes and to come away with some actions and tactics that I could apply directly to my business. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out. I didn’t make any notes or highlights, which is one of my primary criteria for determining how good a business book is. In other words, the more highlights and notes, the better the book. I also didn’t walk away with a lot of directly applicable marketing techniques and tactics.

Most of the problem was me not setting my expectations properly. I overlooked the part of the title where it said “Case Studies”. I’m not saying this because the book is bad. It’s actually written quite well and provides a lot of insight into the how and why popular companies such as Yelp, Github, HubSpot, Evernote, Snapchat and Uber were able to scale rapidly. As such, it’s written as more of a post-mortem and details why certain tactics worked for each of these companies.

In fact, that may be my key takeaway from the book. There really isn’t a common thread or set of tactics for each business that worked. Each business was different, and each achieved their growth using different techniques. What it means is that you need to review your situation and come up with creative marketing methods based on your unique value proposition, market and product offering(s).

Would I recommend reading Startup Growth Engines? The unfortunate, on-the-fence answer is that it depends. If you’re looking for specific marketing techniques and tactics that you can apply to your business, I would encourage you to look elsewhere. If you want to see how companies have used creative marketing techniques based upon their circumstances to grow their business, then it’s a great read. It will likely inspire you to step out and have the confidence to attempt non-traditional marketing techniques.

It’s also worth noting that Startup Growth Engines is more or less a collection of articles that were published on GrowthHackers. Once you’ve read the book, it’s worth doing a drive-by of the GrowthHackers site. They have additional case studies posted there, lots of resources for growth and scaling, and an active community. Of all the things you may takeaway from reading the book, learning about this resource may be one of the most valuable.

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