4 Lessons Learned from GrowthHacker Meetup with Gagan Biyani

Gagan Biyani & Ben Hoffman at GrowthHackers Meetup

I recently helped host the third GrowthHackers Meetup in San Francisco, featuring Gagan Biyani of Udemy, Lyft, GrowthHackers Conference, and now Sprig. Below is a summary of lessons I learned.

Remove Ego, Focus on Working Hard

Gagan started his talk by explaining that the trick with early-stage startups is to eliminate your ego as much as possible. He stated the biggest misconception of most entrepreneurs and early-stage co-founders is that their company is the right idea and deserves to be successful. There is a lot of ego in being able to say, this is my idea, this is my company, this is what I spend my time on.

Drop any love or attachment to what you think is right. Those that think they have the answer have a harder time coming to terms with the fact that they could be wrong. Entrepreneurs have to be lean and nimble. Being right is not as important as creating a product that people want and use. If you have a large ego then you are less likely to take criticism well, you are less likely to listen to your customers/clients, and you are less likely to build an awesome product. Even Sheryl Sandberg understands the importance of being humble in the face of product development and your career.

Gagan mentions that he almost never hires people who have large egos, regardless of their intelligence level or work ethic. He finds that it is too difficult to work with them.

Speak to Your Customers

After you find P/M fit, then you can worry about the other phases of growth. Too many startups want customers immediately. That’s a noble cause but you need to listen to your customers and be absolutely confident that you are solving a problem that exists.

Game apps and daily deal websites that receive millions of users are notorious for not speaking to their customers. Why? Because they get so much traffic that they can simply A/B test the shit out of every little feature or button. But many of us (especially startups) don’t get nearly enough traffic to do that. Heck, I barely hit statistical significance on most of my tests. So where does that leave us?

Time to start hitting the streets – go interview your potential customers. For example, Gagan spoke about the early days of Sprig – him and his co-founder were arguing over menu options. He said this was a 20 minute conversation until one of them said screw it, let’s go ask people. This is when the two of them walked outside and started interviewing people about their eating habits. Turns out they were both right and the Sprig menu eventually shaped into one a three options: white meat, dark meat, and vegetable dish.

Even if you do get tons of traffic, the bottom line here is that there is no substitute for customer development. Gagan spoke of another example about the Lyft launch in Los Angeles. He stated the taxi culture in LA is much different than that of San Francisco or New York. You don’t simply hail a taxi in LA. (I’m an LA native and I’ve never hailed a cab in my life while in LA). But for those that have never been to Los Angeles, you would never know this. The only way to realize this is by interviewing your customers. The Lyft team did exactly this and found out two key factors that were important to Lyft’s success in LA. The first is that taxis in Los Angeles are flaky and that second is that they are sometimes sketchy. Reliability and safety are huge value propositions for Lyft in LA. Without speaking to their potential customers, Lyft would have spent millions trying to figure out what their value proposition would be for the LA market.

MVP Truly Means MVP!

Sprig started by renting office space for the headquarters and a large kitchen to cook the meals. Sprig’s initial headquarters was Gagan’s apartment in San Francisco.

Next they launched a complex website that had an awesome algorithm to control the supply/demand of the meals. Gagan and his team created an eventbrite and instead of charging for a ticket, they simply charged for meals. You had the option to choose from one of three tickets (meals) and done – the order was placed.

Finally, they purchased a computer and iPhone for each employee to ensure maximum work efficiency and continual communication. They had three devices – an iPad, a Mac, an iPhone, (and a paper map). Super simple, super lean. The iPad was used to watch the delivery driver & Google Maps, the Mac was for meal inventory via Google Spreadsheets, and the iPhone was used for text messages to customers for order updates. Easy, cheap, and quick way to test their hypothesis. They did this for twelve weeks straight and improved through iteration. I truly love this story.

Their initial MVP night included about 150 meals of friends and family. This is all it took to validate their hypothesis that people would pay for non-restaraunt food delivery.

First Find Product/Market Fit, Then Focus on Growth

Gagan’s first slide says it loud and clear – find product/market fit, identify your primary growth strategies, then scale! The initial goal is to find product/market fit by testing your hypothesis cheaply and quickly. Before this, nothing else is important. Stop worrying about growth numbers and hacks – build an awesome product that people need and will use. Further, Gagan said, “no cheating!” In a nutshell, this means you should not be doing paid marketing when your product sucks.

After you find P/M fit, then you can worry about the other phases of growth. Too many startups want customers immediately. That’s a noble cause but you need to listen to your customers and be absolutely confident that you are solving a problem that exists.

Your Turn

What are your thoughts on Gagan’s talk?  Specifically, do you think he is right when he states growth is built into awesome products and that everything else comes second?

About Benjamin

My name is Ben and I am the Director of Growth for Neighborly. I like to write about startups, tech, growth hacking, and product marketing. I hope you enjoyed reading my posts and I'd love to hear from you on Twitter (@benhoffman_).


  1. Rustin A says:

    Great writeup, Ben…very bummed I missed the event. While all of Gagan’s points are relevant and important, some key takeaways I had include the importance of AVOIDING scaling too early (product is KEY!!), and to never underestimate the importance of customer development.

    • Benjamin says:

      Thanks Rustin! We’ll get you on the next one. …Product is definitely key and if you scale to early, you could end up hurting yourself in the end. I’ll keep you posted of our upcoming events.

  2. Hey Ben –

    I had one great “aha” moment in the presentation that I had not heard before.

    I loved the courage of the statement “No Cheating.” By eliminating distractions, Gagan was able to focus his team on the product because that is the only way that it could grow was by word of mouth. What does “cheating” mean? At the “Oh shit, NO ONE IS USING OUR PRODUCT” moment, Gagan forced his team to focus on product market fit instead of throwing up (literally?) Facebook ads and PPC. Gagan said his team employed no growth tactics in the first 6 months: no advertising, no discounts, no product distractions. That speaks hugely to his experience because most people cave in and throw money (mistakenly) at advertising as a last ditch effort to avoid doing the really hard work. The results? (Spoiler alert) 86% of Sprig’s business came from word of mouth and 14% from early PR.

    I would love to have another session – perhaps a panel? – talking about how much time and energy to put into early stage PR, and perhaps learn from the pros about how to shape a PR strategy for growth. I got the impression that Gagan really knew how to manage and enhance the exposure without succumbing to another distraction (and PR can become an all encompassing obsession).

    Thanks for the great speaker! I’m definitely looking forward to more events, Cheryl

    • Benjamin says:

      Exactly Cheryl! It is SO easy to simply throw money at a broken product. This is bandaid and by the time you realize that your product is broken, sadly it is too late.

      Thanks for the input about the event. As a member of our mailing list you will receive first notice on any events we are hosting. Will keep you posted!

  3. I love the strikethroughs under the MVP section! Those really help drive it home.

    His concept of no cheating early on resinated with me. I imagine it’s really easy, especially as a previous growth-focused professional, to turn on some ads to drive people to a landing page.

    • Benjamin says:

      Thanks Lyle! I’m happy you like the strikeout… was a last minute bit of creativity. I also agree with the ‘no cheating’ concept. With that said, it’s much easier said than done, esp. if you are getting excellent CPC/CPM.

  4. Sounds like some very useful knowledge for budding entrepreneurs!

    One question I have is who did they have cooking their food in the MVP days? All 4 of their founding team were digital guys, and I didn’t think you could cook for people without a commercial kitchen, insurance etc.

    Doesn’t that make the ‘minimum’ in MVP to a higher level of resources than a lot of other startups?

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