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Hey Sifted Reader, 

After a summer where half of Europe was out of office, growth targets and goal setting are on everyone’s mind as we head into September and start preparing for the last quarter of 2021. 

So our interviewee this week is none other than VP of growth at Wise, Nilan Peiris, who shares some wisdom on how to run a growth team. 

We’re also looking at how to grow this newsletter — so if you have any topics you’d like to see us cover, let us know.

 Amy and Anisah 🧡

\How to

Run a growth team

When we asked Twitter who we should be speaking to about growth, Nilan Peiris was recommended numerous times. It’s easy to see why — he’s led growth at Wise for nine years. In that time, Wise has become synonymous with international money transfers, grown to over 2k employees and in July went public on the London Stock Exchange. Nilan has an opinion or two on scaling a company — and it’s not what they teach you at business school: 

Don’t have growth targets. Targets are often set to manage board expectations who are accountable to shareholders — it’s a game of passing on accountability. The alternative is to build bottom-up: teams closest to customers identify growth opportunities and set the path for their execution. We then invest in those areas — that’s our growth strategy. For example, in Malaysia we have a team working on a Wise debit card. I could set what we should focus on but they’re on the ground and probably know where the biggest opportunity lies. The team identifies this, works on it and can ask for more resources because they’re more likely to be right than me. 

Leadership needs to keep everyone in the loop. Decisions made by the team need to be communicated simply and in line with company strategy to the CEO and board. The person who leads this doesn't need to be a VP of growth. It could be a VP of product, CMO… someone to stand up to the pressures from shareholders on short-term results — to articulate sacrificing valuation in the short-term, for real problem solving that will lead to long-term shareholder value. 

Track growth. At Wise, we do this by looking at our forecasts so we can know how we're trending over time and if we’re in line with what was predicted. It helps us to see if we're in line with company growth and works better than picking an arbitrary number to try and hit. We also look at our growth curve, specifically at fighting the S curve where at one point growth stagnates: when you launch a product, the uptake is steep from 0 to having customers. When those customers tell everyone about you, the curve shoots up and everyone that can possibly use it is using it. Then only a few new customers join every month and the curve slows and mellows out. So your job is to keep the curve going up. Your product can’t just be a small marginal benefit for someone to switch to — there has to be nowhere better to go. If we drop the price or embed Wise into their bank, it may be worth them using it. These are the types of things that I spend my time on that keep us growing. 

Build a culture where everyone is responsible for growth. At Wise, we work in squads where each team has the skills (designers, developers, marketers, etc.), budgets and insight they need to make things happen. This enables our bottom-up innovation culture. As a founder, to lead this type of culture and keep people onside you have to avoid two pitfalls — greed, where the founder takes too much out of the company or checks out mentally once personally satisfied; and fear, where the founder micromanages decisions, especially financial ones.

Timelines should vary by company stage. In the early days, you should only be goal planning for the week ahead. Then, start setting goals once every two weeks. Keep tweaking. When I joined Wise full-time at year two, we were looking one month ahead. Now, 10 years in, there are definitely some investments that fall into the multi-year category and many teams focus on quarterly progress, but a lot of my time is still in moving stuff immediately.

\A message from our sponsor Talent Garden

Want to upskill your team? Read this

From UX and data science to product management, Talent Garden’s Innovation School helps founders and teams level up their skills.

Learn more about the scholarship and apply here.

\On the Subject of...

Growth

📈 Europe’s fastest growing scaleups. Here are the top 10. 

🤓 First thousand users. Here are seven strategies successful consumer apps used to get their first customers. 

🤯 Growing too fast. Senior product manager at Zalando, Ravi Sinha, outlines how to create a sustainable growth strategy — and not crash and burn after your first growth spurt. 

🛠️ Build a growth team. This popular post by Andrew Chen of Silicon Valley VC Andreessen Horowitz looks at the structure of a team, and where and how growth should fit into it. 

💀 Sustainable startups’ comms are killing growth. Their inability to turn data and deeptech into compelling stories is hurting their ability to raise money and attract customers. One from the Sifted archives.  

\Sifted Talks

How startups should avoid a bad customer journey

So you’ve driven consumers to your website, but bad CX could mean low conversion and wasted money. Find out what not to do from Trouva cofounder and CEO, Alex Loizou, Checkout.com's head of commercial, Antoine Nougué and chief experience officer at Vestiaire Collective, Vicky Van Asbroeck in this Sifted Talk.

Join us here online on September 1.  

\People Moves

Broadband startup Cuckoo has a new senior hire. Sarah Ahern joins the London-based team as head of strategy and ops and will be working on industry partnerships. She was previously head of strategy and projects at Just Eat for Business.

Roisin Levine has joined Wise. Roisin, one of the best-connected women in UK fintech, last week announced her new role as head of UK and Europe partnerships at Wise Platform, where she’ll be enticing other fintechs to use Wise’s payments infrastructure. She was previously head of banks at fintech Flux and before that, head of partnerships at Funding Options.

Katrina Curl has joined sustainable startup Xampla. As head of marketing and communications, she’ll be helping the Cambridge University spinout tell the world about its natural alternatives to plastics. 

Andy Ayim has joined fintech Zilch. Andy, the founder of Angel Investing School and former director of Backstage Capital in London, is joining the Buy Now Pay Later fintech as head of product management. 

Sarah Drinkwater has left Omidyar. Sarah, the former head of Google Campus in London and an active angel investor, has stepped down from her position at the philanthropic organisation Omidyar Network. She’s now advising the London Design Museum (and has helped it set up a free programme for design-led founders) and ‘working on something new’.

Got any people intel you'd like to share with us? We'd love to hear it... 😉 

\Smart Reads

1) Retain top talent. If you want to keep your best employees, they have to grow with you and the company — a Twitter thread. 

2) Your cap table doesn’t have to be a boys’ club. Michelle You, founder of climate tech startup Supercritical, shares how her team managed to end up with a gender balanced cap table. 

3) Product designers need more than design talent. From soft skills to documentation, here are some skills your designers should possess. 

4) Marketing tips for solo founders. This four-part series covers everything from finding your audience to understanding marketing funnels — and it’s all broken down in easily digestible chunks.  

5) Community led startups are the future. Building a community first may be the fastest way to successfully launch a product and save time and marketing costs.

Read something you think everyone else should too? Send it on over to Anisah.

Forwarded this newsletter?

Subscribe to Startup Life.

\Podcast of the Week

How to run probation periods fairly and productively

Most managers at startups will have had to let someone go during their probation period. That’s normal, but so is somewhat mismanaging probation periods — as Chris Edson, CEO of healthtech startup Second Nature, knows. 

In this episode of the Culture Ops podcast from people tech startup Charlie HR, Chris shares what he’s learned, what he’s messed up and best practice he’s picked up over the years. 

1) Lay out clear expectations for what great looks like in a role and assess people against that. Be crystal clear what amazing looks like before you hire someone — and write it down. Sit down with a new joiner on day one and tell them what they need to do to pass probation. That shouldn’t be a series of tasks. Instead explain what behaviours look amazing in that role. 

2) Give critical feedback earlier rather than later. If you’ve waited two months to raise concerns about a new hire, you’ve waited too long. 

3) If your instincts say a new hire isn’t right, question why. You want to make sure biases aren’t playing a role. Get a second and third opinion, from a founder, a coach, the leadership team or — if necessary — other people working with that candidate. (That’s a fairly sensitive thing to do, though.) 

4) If you think someone can’t improve, then the fairest thing to do is let them go. There’s no point giving feedback if you think the person can’t act on it. On the flip side, if you’re sure someone is a good fit, let them know that they’ve passed their probation early. 

5) Be considerate and considered. Let people go at the end of the day. Have at least two people representing the company in that meeting. Offer to pack up their desk for them and send on their things. Remove them from Slack and close down their email immediately. Explain clearly to the rest of the team why that person has been let go. 

Listen to the full thing here.
 

 Amy

Amy Lewin
Deputy Editor

Get in touch with her at amy@sifted.eu.
She loves a bit of reader feedback.
Anisah Osman Britton
Founder at 23 Code Street

Get in touch with her at anisah@sifted.eu.
She loves to hear about the latest in startupland.
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