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Zero to One for Web3 Growth Leaders
How web3 growth leaders can do more with less
As economic tailwinds persist, venture funding has declined and valuations have dropped. Web3 growth leaders at early stage companies find themselves with tighter budgets and a mandate to prioritize efficiency while justifying spending. Users who would once clamor to get their hands on the newest and latest protocol or dapp are also withdrawing reverting to familiar, well-established alternatives.
This shift is putting extraordinary pressure on web3 growth leaders tasked to grow a product from zero to one. Especially in the scrappy startup setting, growth can seem challenging without the capital for large-scale activations, high-profile event sponsorships and airdrops of tantalizing goodies. While resource constraints narrow the realm of possibility, there is still plenty of room for growth leaders to bring their products and services to audiences.
In this article, we explore the priorities of a web3 growth leader taking a startup from zero to one, offering tips on how to operate with less, and infusing a web3 spin into time-tested growth strategies. Whether you’ve been tasked with acquiring the first set of pilot customers, or you’re an early employee at a fledgling web3 startup looking for low-cost pointers around growth, we have put together actions for you to get started. Let’s dive in.
Don’t chase trends. Make 5-10 friends
One of the hallmark traits of the web3 space is that the latest trend makes the loudest noise. For a euphoric albeit brief moment, the “flavor of the month” dominates conversations on Crypto Twitter (CT), in-person conferences, and virtual events. Whether it is the recent buzz around zero-knowledge proofs, or protocol-owned liquidity a year ago, it can be tempting for growth leaders to dive headfirst into trending topics or the current narrative.
Yet, growth leaders should be wary of going too deep into a trend, without thoughtful consideration of how it relates to the problem they set out to solve. Unlike the web2 world where there is an abundance of competition to verify pain points, many problem statements in web3 are new and difficult to validate externally. As a result, the growth leader who indiscriminately chases trends for the sake of being part of the conversation often finds themself in echo chambers. Once the proverbial music stops, they may well realize they have squandered limited resources away from building the core. Case in point: protocol-owned liquidity. Popularized by OlympusDAO in early 2022, a swathe of protocols followed suit and attempted to offer high, unsustainable yields to attract liquidity. After the hype died down, successful adoption was limited to a handful of projects: the majority failed. With a “winner-takes-all” market, combined with the absence of trust for most protocols, many realized that protocol-owned liquidity could be a problem for a few, resulting in precipitous plummets in token values post-experimentation.
The over-used and oft-ignored advice of building lean and staying close to one’s customers and their pain points is your friend. In web3, the adage of “if you are not embarrassed by the first version of the product, you are too late” holds especially true, given how fast the space moves. This is not novel, but it has proven to work - when Optimism started out, they were hyper-focused on building roll-ups for Synthetix. Only after achieving traction with Synthetix did they start to grow beyond.
Growth leaders tasked to go from zero to one, however, face a unique challenge: defining the first 10 users. If a growth leader’s role is to stay close to users to discover their pain points and identify the right communication channels, then picking collaborative and participative users is especially critical. This brings us to a trap that many first-time growth leaders fall into. The lure of marquee “big name” logos as initial users is equivalent to the siren’s call in Homer’s voyage. Of course, it is tempting to come out of stealth swinging with an instantly-recognizable marquee brand that builds credibility. Yet for the most part, the quest for larger, more established brands is more challenging on two fronts. Not only is it difficult to build trust with your nascent product, but big name users tend to be more time-pressed and too resource constrained to engage deeply; unable to offer much-needed feedback for growth.
In lieu of this, Biconomy’s growth lead (one of the co-authors) tried a different tactic: onboard 5-10 promising early projects as the first few users, and grow alongside them. In Biconomy’s early days, the growth team engaged with high potential teams at the start of their growth journey and went the extra mile to delight them. The portfolio approach paid off handsomely when several partner projects took off, not only contributing significant transaction volume, but more importantly, staying engaged and providing feedback.
Taking a leaf out of Biconomy’s playbook, growth leaders starting from zero should make friends instead of chasing trends; friends who will join them on the moon after taking off together.
Experiment with 4-5 growth tactics to figure out what works
The portfolio strategy is not limited to identifying initial users – it helps with growth experiments too. In the beginning, the most effective touchpoint is rarely clear, so pick a few strategies to experiment with. The number of experiments needs to follow the ‘Goldilocks’ rule - not too few to stifle learning, and not too many to overstretch an early-stage team: 4 or 5 is just right.
Some tactics that B2B / B2D (business-to-developer, i.e. infrastructure tools like Biconomy) growth leaders can experiment with include:
Identify product bundling opportunities - Often, users have multidimensional problems where the solution goes beyond the scope of a single product. Growth leaders can partner with complementary products that collectively address users’ needs. This is seen in Biconomy’s partnership with Alchemy. A project looking to do a gasless NFT drop can work with the two partners, where Biconomy gives relayers for gasless transactions while Alchemy provides an NFT API.
Collaborate closely with L1 / L2 foundations - Foundation teams often have access to and interact with a broad swathe of prospective users, making them valuable partners to early stage growth leaders. Opportunities exist for deep channel partnerships for mutual business development, especially for emerging chains.
Utilize tools for outbound prospecting - As the web3 space remains tight-knit, almost everyone is a second-degree connection for a plugged-in growth leader (we will explore being plugged-in later). Using tools such as Nansen and DappRadar to identify up-and-coming projects with traction, then identifying connections to broker an introduction should be on the to-do list for growth leaders.
Design incentives to reduce onboarding friction - One of the co-authors has previously written about subsidizing gas fees for users to interact seamlessly. The thoughtful inclusion of incentives as a ‘deal sweetener’ to help users achieve their intended objective can be the icing on the cake that accelerates adoption.
Optimize for social media - with Twitter as the de facto townhall for crypto conversations, Discord as a community-building space, and Telegram for 1-on-1 or 1-to-many conversations, growth leaders should review their social media regularly. From a concise and easy-to-understand profile bio, to a clear call-to-action for prospective users, these are critical tools for growth.
No matter the tactic, a golden principle applies: always create multiple touch points with users and engage them repeatedly. This keeps you central to conversations. A standalone tactic rarely creates sufficient impact for breakout growth, just as a single piece of communication is unlikely to resonate with your whole audience. When outbound prospecting, Biconomy tries to reach out to 3 individuals at the target project simultaneously. With a minimum of 4 touch points with each individual; 12 touch points for a single project almost-guarantees onboarding a user. Shortly after the co-authors discussed this article, Biconomy sent a concisely and personalized recap to Saison Capital, keeping us well-engaged with their work (see image below).
Go all-in and get fully involved
Web3 growth leaders who are embarking on the odyssey from zero to one should be prepared to go all-in and be fully involved in the space. While many time-tested principles of growth from the web2 world apply, the difference in pace is stark. Trends emerge, grip the attention of the crypto world and disappear as quickly as they came. For the growth leader aspiring to thrive, being fully involved encompasses 3 ‘be’s - be technical, be plugged in, be vocal.
Be technical - While growth leaders do not necessarily need to know how to program smart contracts, or debug code, it is critical to understand how value is delivered from a technology perspective. If a protocol has 2 smart contracts, a growth leader needs to be able to articulate what each smart contract offers in understandable, layperson terms. If a project is aggregating liquidity or offering yield, a growth leader should be able to articulate how bond curves and impermanent loss occurs. Without a nuanced understanding of the underlying technology, growth leaders will struggle to truly communicate value to users. Resources such as DeFi Edge’s skill tree offers a structured, methodical approach for growth leaders to become more technical.
Be plugged in - Community is a core tenet of web3, and there are a myriad of ways to get involved and meet like-minded people to learn from. Take Safary, a community for web3 growth leaders. This article, along with others in the series, is an outcome of individuals passionate about web3 growth meeting through the Safary community and coming together to co-create content. If you are new, you are one event away from meeting someone who could 10x your growth. Commit to an event, be it a hackathon or mixer, and you will effortlessly find a couple of folks to connect with.
Be vocal - Once you are plugged in, start to be vocal and contribute. Pick a platform you are comfortable with - whether it is within a community, or on a Twitter space - and share an insight or two. Often, this forms the basis for connection and gradually establishes credibility among peers. After all, one of web3’s most attractive draws is openness, where one does not need to ask for permission to contribute.
To wrap up, the key to thriving in a zero to one web3 role is to take a step back. Often, growth leaders have a blank canvas to work with, and the common trap is to rush in full speed and try to spin too many plates at once. Taking a step back, identifying who your closest allies are and getting a lay of the land to identify relevant touch points is more important than ever, especially in a resource-constrained environment. The same can be said for one’s individual journey - being an effective web3 leader involves going all-in with thoughtfulness. Take your time, trust your gut and in times of doubt, return to first principles.
Resources for growth leaders
Here is an additional list of materials recommended for growth leaders: